Illinois redshirt sophomore OT Adam Solomon elevated to first string

Illini redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Adam Solomon has always had Big Ten size. Now he's receiving the opportunity to put it to use.

Adam Solomon looked the part when he arrived on the Illinois campus almost two years ago.

Then a 6-foot-6, 290-pound freshman, the Indianapolis native appeared a bit different than the slender, developmental tackles Tim Beckman's staff tended to recruit. Simply, Solomon -- who chose Illinois over seven other power-five offers -- looked like the road-grading type of prospect Iowa or Wisconsin normally recruits.

"He's always had the physical tools," said Illinois starting offensive lineman Gabe Megginson, who came in the same 2015 recruiting class with Solomon. "You see a true 6-6, 6-7 type dude, they're big bodies. He's always been there physically."

Now at 315 pounds, Solomon is getting an opportunity to put that big body to use.

Solomon sat his first two seasons behind three-year starting offensive tackle Austin Schmidt. But Schmidt's graduation has created an open competition at one of the offensive tackle spots. Jordan Fagan began the spring as the starter there, but Solomon needed just a few practices to supplant the senior.

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"It means a lot to me," Solomon said. "It shows that the coaching staff is putting a lot of trust in me, and I'm starting to trust myself, trust the technique. Coach (Luke) Butkus has really been on us and helping us out and helping me out and get to the point I need to be. It means a lot to me. I'm really excited about it. I know I got to keep working."

Solomon said he learned a lot about the trials and tribulations of making the leap from young backup to starter from Megginson, his roommate.

"He's just a really good friend of mine," Solomon said. "He taught me the ropes a bit. He taught me to be patient and just keep working at it."

Megginson even helps Solomon to their diets.

"We'll be pounding some Kit Kats and look at each other and say, 'Hey, man. We should probably take it easy,'" Megginson said. "We push each other."

Yes, Solomon's strength -- his size -- also can be an impediment if that size is of the bad kind. Solomon is one of the team's strongest run blockers but is working on quickening his drop into pass protection. He said the key for him to stay strong but keep off the sloppy weight by eating "right" and eating smaller portions.

"I just got to keep working on my body and keep working on my footwork," Solomon said. "The big thing for me is to keep losing weight. If I continue to lose weight, I'll be able to move better. That goes one-and-one with footwork, and my footwork's going to continue to get better. I just got to keep grinding and pushing and maintaining that mental stability and the body stability to go out and keep pushing my body and pushing myself."

Added Megginson: "Nobody sees it, but he's quick. But he's one of the quicker dudes, top-2 or -3. I mean, he's just a freak. He is built like a freak."

Solomon fits the kind of big, physical blocker that Garrick McGee wants in an offense that will feature more power runs. The Illinois offensive coordinator said Solomon's biggest gains must be mental.

"He's got to learn more about defense," McGee said, "learn how to anticipate things, know what certain fronts represent, understand more about the scheme and play -- as all of them -- with much more discipline, much more urgency and more intensity, like everyone on our offense does."

Added Illinois junior starting offensive lineman Nick Allegretti: "He's a big kid that knows how to play football. He's a kid who has to gain some confidence, and he's doing a great job with that as he continues to fall into this role. I think he's going to have a great season."

Solomon currently is repping with the first team offensive line -- with senior Christian DiLauro at the opposite tackle, Allegretti at center and Megginson and sophomore Darta Lee at the guard spots  -- but he knows that spot is just temporary. Redshirt freshman center Doug Kramer Jr. could play at center, which could move Allegretti to guard and swing Megginson out to tackle. Incoming freshman Larry Boyd also is expected to compete for a starting guard job when he arrives this summer, possibly pushing Megginson to tackle.

"It's stressful," Solomon said. "It really is. You got guys in front of you who are good players. You got guys who have been here a while and some other good players coming in. You really got to compete and fight for that spot. You got to gain that spot. There's a lot of competition, but it's stressful. It's stressful to get that spot, and it's stressful to keep it. But that's good. I got to stay uncomfortable and make sure I keep that spot."

Solomon certainly looks the part -- now more than ever. Now he's getting the opportunity to play the part.

"I just think he finally got the mental concept down and is being a little more aggressive," Megginson said. "We've definitely talked a lot. He's had the goal as starter since he came in here. He works just as hard, if not harder than anyone else. He's always had that mentality, so the physical and mental had to click together. I think he's finally on that path."

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