OTAs are underway and though the San Francisco 49ers are dealing with a lot of injuries, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas is one player who feeling stronger than ever mentally and physically.
“…I had probably had my worst season ever in my life last year and I’m the most calm I’ve ever been in my career like right now, that says a lot,” Thomas said. “I’m just ready to move forward and show everyone who Solomon Thomas is.”
In January 2018, Thomas’ sister Ella, who he has described as “the light of [his] life” committed suicide after battling with anxiety and depression. Understandably, the loss of his sister took a toll on Thomas both on and off the field.
“That first year was really hard for me,” said Thomas. “Just all the phases of anger, depression, sadness, guilt, grief, you know, all that kind of stuff. And then so it was hard for me to get healthy…and it took me awhile. And then once I was I was a different person,…it was like I was light on my feet. I could finally walk and move again. But it took a long, like, you know, seeing a therapist, being open just with my emotions…[L]ife doesn’t get easier, but finding a way to adjust with it and keep moving on and get better every day. And that’s what I’ve been able to do.
“So that’s how, that’s how I kind of found my balance and got healthy mentally and physically. Because physically you can be the best you can ever be, but if you’re not healthy mentally your body is not going to work. Your mind can take over your body, your mind controls everything. So that’s why I’m working on for me and I feel mentally healthier than ever. And that’s why I feel that this is the best I’ve ever felt in my life right now.”
Head coach Kyle Shanahan sees it too.
“…[H]e’s got his aura back to him,” Shanahan said. “You can see it in his eyes, you can feel his energy a little bit better and it definitely seems like he’s in a better place. We all know grieving can be as hard as it gets and takes people a long time, but you can see he’s doing better. Just to see him out there in practice, I don’t see his face now he’s got a helmet on out there and to see his body and how he’s moving, I’ve been very impressed with him in this month we’ve had with him.”
Thomas was the #3 overall draft pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Though he has shown flashes in his first two seasons, the defensive lineman has come under criticism for not living up to his potential. Before last month’s draft, trade rumors were circulating about Thomas but nothing came of them and the 49ers denied them.
“[W]hen all those trade rumors came out John [Lynch] pulled me in his office and we started to get a nice healthy talking. I respect and love John and he has been nothing but amazing to me and so has Kyle and this whole organization…[W]e just talked about, you know, plans moving forward. Just how we’re excited about this new scheme, how it perfectly fits how I play.”
Thomas has a new defensive line coach this season in Kris Kocurek, and with him comes some new responsibilities for Thomas.
“It’s perfect, you know, getting off in the back going and not thinking, just getting off,” Thomas said. “Getting off is my explosion, that is how I play, you know, another is using my techniques and my quickness and the explosion…[Having a green light, that’s what I need…I needed to go on and being able to like press guards…give them the edge and crush tight ends and that’s how I put it and that’s what brings my strengths out. That’s what…kind of scheme can bring my strengths out. So I love the scheme. Coach K has been great for us. And this has been fun so far and everyone’s having a great time.”
In his second year with Thomas, cornerback Richard Sherman sees a shift in his teammate.
“He’s got a lot more pep in his step,” Sherman said. “He’s smiling, he’s walking around. He’s working, he’s coming to work. He’s got an energy about him, an infectious energy on the field. He’s relentless on the field. Not to say that he wasn’t that last year, but you could feel like something was weighing in on him. Every guy is a grown man, and everybody deals with their issues differently. I think he definitely has a lot more spark about him this year.”
It’s important to Thomas that the issue of mental health is at the forefront of all health conversations and he’s working to ensure that the stigma associated with it goes away.
“…I know the NBA does a good job…I know at the NFL it’s a big problem we have,” Thomas said. “We’re probably one of the most masculine sports out there. And um, and we need it badly. We need more, more conversation about it…I’m trying to spark a conversation…[M]ental health is an epidemic in the U.S. and around the world and it’s something that we need to talk about…especially in a very masculine sport. So we can kind of set the example for all other men out there who watch…or little kids and let them know it’s okay to express their emotions…So that’s important. And that’s why I kind of want to keep talking and start the conversation as much as I can.”
*Some photos provided by 49ers.com