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Nate Solder – New England Patriots (17th overall)
When a 6-foot-8 freshman tight end named Nate Solder signed on to CU in 2006, there was no telling where he would end up.
“I would prefer to play tight end but if I’d be better suited at tackle, I would be willing to play there,” he told reporters as a senior in high school.
During his inaugural fall, while taking a redshirt, Solder’s teammates picked him for the Special Teams Scout Award. The recognition may sound as prestigious a title as the Most Fertile Retiree at Balfour Senior Living, but it proved then what we all now know.
A team player if there ever was one, Solder sacrificed his preference of catching passes to take up the seldom-glorified dirty work of an offensive lineman.
Coaches slid Solder one spot over to left tackle and the Buena Vista native willingly padded on 30 pounds before his sophomore campaign. He started that season, and the next two, becoming the school’s first ever consensus All-American at his position.
His position change pays off in form of a fat paycheck, as the New England Patriots picked him 17th overall during Thursday’s NFL Draft. Last season’s pick at that same spot, Mike Iupati, signed a contract worth $18 million.
For as big and talented as he is, he remains every bit as humble and dedicated as that way-too-big freshman scout teamer. While juggling his responsibilities on the field, the finalist for the “Academic Heisman” earned a degree in biology with a stellar 3.52 GPA.
“Nothing’s been easy,” Solder said before the draft. “I absolutely think I’ve been tested and tried. Going into the future I know there’s going to be more obstacles.”
A long career awaits the monster tackle, which is moving up to protect the oh-so important backside of Tom Brady.
Pretty good for a guy who didn’t even know his position or good fortune, a few years ago.
Jimmy Smith – Baltimore Ravens (27th overall)
What typifies Jimmy Smith? Maybe it happened during an early season game against Hawaii. A receiver was streaking 80 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. Only he never scored.
Coming from the opposite side of the field while matched up with another receiver, Smith raced down the ball carrier before he could cross the endzone. A few plays later the CU defense held tight and Hawaii turned the ball over.
Sure, he has the speed and the size to make for a big-time NFL talent. But he also gives an extra push. That’s why the Baltimore Ravens made him the organization’s newest member with the 27th overall pick in the first round of the NFL Draft.
In joining with the likes of Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and Terrell Suggs – all NFL Pro Bowlers – the former All-Big 12 corner will not be without proper sponsorship. For Smith, the skill set is there to someday belong among those last names of great Raven defenders. Only once in his junior and senior seasons did Smith allow a first-down pass while going man-to-man with an opposing receiver.
So why did it take 26 picks before Smith heard his name called?
Scouts and draft experts continually put his personal life under the microscope throughout the month-long process. He suffered the same label of “excess baggage” as countless prospects before him, including Warren Sapp and Randy Moss.
“Teams might confuse character issues with bad decision making,” Smith said in a pre-draft interview with Fox Sports. “I made bad decisions when I was a young kid in college. It took me a little while to realize my potential and who I really [am].”
Now Smith carries the title “NFL cornerback” next to his name. Now he is another step closer to realizing his future.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Michael Krumholtz at Michael.email@example.com.