MINNEAPOLIS – Life is heavy for Nate Solder.
His job is to protect the blindside of perhaps the best quarterback of all-time in Tom Brady against a strong Philadelphia Eagles’ pass rush today in Super Bowl LII. Never gone from his thoughts is his young son, Hudson, has been undergoing a second round of weekly chemotherapy treatments for kidney cancer.
Luckily for Solder, he is a big man from the small mountain town of Buena Vista who seems to handle it all with equanimity. Solder eases his burden by maintaining a brave front, a positive attitude, and playing football before more than 100 million people today in Super Bowl LII.
“Well, it is heavy, that’s why football is so fun,’’ Solder said at the New England Patriot media session Thursday. “You get to go out there, compete at a high level and have some fun, tear it up with your buddies. Really that’s kind of the relief from all the heavy stuff back home.’’
Solder’s routine, when it’s not Super Bowl week, is to drive on Tuesday mornings with his wife, Lexi, and Hudson from Foxborough, where the Patriots play, practice and prepare, to the Jimmy Fund Clinic in Boston. Hudson, who was diagnosed with the kidney cancer when he was 3 months old, is 2 ½-years old now.
“He’s doing awesome,’’ Solder said. “He’s still doing chemotherapy. Handling it really well. The chemotherapy is working. They haven’t started growing again – all the tumors are shrinking. It’s tough, but he’s doing great so there’s a lot of hope in the whole matter.’’
Even if nothing can be more serious than your child’s health, Solder doesn’t complain. He understands in other aspects his life is idyllic.
Starting with growing up in one of the most scenic towns on earth in Buena Vista, a town of roughly 2,600 people and 8,000 feet in elevation.
“That’s a great community to be from,’’ he said. “Those people are so amazing. I stay in touch with several of them. We started doing our (football) camps there in July. We’re going to continue doing that. We’re so excited about that. A lot of kids showed up last year, hopefully, we’re going to continue to grow there. But being from there, the close ties I have with so many people there, it’s a special place.’’
In 2005, the same year Jake Plummer and Champ Bailey led the Broncos to the AFC Championship Game, Solder was a Class 2A All-State tight end and linebacker in his senior year high school year for the Demons. That winter he averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds a game for the basketball team.
"Skilled" players are not restricted to receivers, running backs and quarterbacks.
He arrived at the University of Colorado as a 6-foot-7, 245-pound tight end. He left as a 6-8, 305-pound consensus All American left tackle. He was New England’s first pick, No. 17 overall, in the 2011 NFL Draft – the same event where the Broncos took pass rusher Von Miller with the No. 2 overall choice.
And now Solder is about to finish his seventh NFL season by playing in his fourth Super Bowl even though he overcame testicular cancer in 2014 and a season-ending torn biceps injury early in 2015.
“The whole thing has been such an adventure,’’ said Solder. “I’m from Buena Vista, a small-town kid. I never thought I’d be here. I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had. I just do the most I can with what I’ve been given and it’s been a lot. It’s been a very exciting adventure.’’
His two-year, $20.06 million contract will essentially expire in a few hours and he will then receive the leverage of free agency where he could make more.
Would he like to return home and play a few years for the Broncos?
“Man, I’m just looking forward to this game, looking forward to the opportunity to be here,’’ Solder said. “I don’t want to look past that.’’
Spoken like a Patriot. In media circles there has been speculation Solder may retire if he doesn’t re-up with New England because his family has such a deep trust and comfort level with the Jimmy Fund Clinic in Boston.
He clarified that position this week.
“Actually, I haven’t discussed that,’’ he said. “Some people have made stories about that.
“My focus has been totally on the Eagles right now. We’re going to have some conversations after this game. For now, we’re going to leave that till then.’’
At this point, it would be a mild surprise if the Broncos pursued Solder. He’s going to be a big-ticket commodity and the Broncos may need to place most of their offseason resources into their quarterback position.
If they did go after him, they would get a Nate Solder whose body might be more beat up than it was when he left Buena Vista and Boulder. But as he turns 30 in April, Solder is also a much better left tackle than he was a first-round rookie for the Patriots.
“I’m also more developed, too,’’ he said. “I’ve gotten stronger. I’m in better shape. More mature. There's so many factors.
“I’ve had such awesome coaching with how competitive they are in New England. The high level of coaches they’ve had here from Dante Scarnecchia to Bill (Belichick) to Josh McDaniels, they’ve been so awesome that I’ve become a much better player.’’
Solder has been a great Patriot – is anything more impressive? Other than saying, you know, you’re a great husband and father and a Colorado native.
“Oh man, I love Colorado,’’ he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen but that’s a great place to be from. I have tons of friends still there. It’s an amazing spot.’’