Five-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon was locked in to the Rose Bowl as the game wound down in the second half.
The California native was focused on the school he grew up watching and was thrilled with the outcome when USC defeated Penn State, 52-49, after outscoring the Nittany Lions 17-0 in the fourth quarter.
“It was the best win I've ever seen in my life,” Solomon said. “It was just amazing the way they fought back into it. They didn't get down when they were down two touchdowns. They just fought back easily. I've got to give props to the head coach. It was just an amazing win.
“Great comeback. I loved it.”
The Rose Bowl provided an extra opportunity for Solomon to pay attention to the Trojans’ defense.
“They're very disciplined,” Solomon said. “They're not the biggest defense by far, but they've got a lot of heart. They get after it. They can really make you mess up bad -- just the mistakes they can make you create on offense is just unreal.”
The Trojans will get a bit smaller on the defensive side with nose tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu exhausting his eligibility after his one season with USC as a graduate transfer. The departure of the Rose Bowl Defensive MVP as well as the transfer of sophomore Noah Jefferson leaves a hole in the middle of the defensive line.
That is a place the Leesburg (Ga.) Lee County prospect could fit in. The 6-foot-3, 304-pounder has stood out the first two days of practice at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. On Tuesday when the East and West squads crossed over for an afternoon practice segment, Solomon had the most success of the East defensive linemen against the West’s vaunted offensive line group.
The most impressive part of his success this week is that he’s playing a new position. Lee County played a 3-3-5 defense with Solomon at the nose tackle spot. He’s gone from playing a zero-technique lined up straight across from the center to the three-technique that defensive tackles in a 4-3 defense play.
“Going out there and playing on the guard is very difficult in a way, so I've got to learn it,” Solomon said. “You got to be way quicker you know. You've got to have that good get off, that good rush. I know I need to get better on my pass rush. It's a learning experience everyday.”
“It's a great experience,” he said of the All-American game. “It's a big change from high school ball where I played because I could just muscle half the people I played against, 75 percent of the people I played against. These guys are my size, if not bigger, so you know it's a good challenge.”
With USC, Solomon sees an opportunity to make an impact in his first year.
“Especially with the coaching staff they've got, I will work hard every day, get after it every day. I don't expect to play right off the rip. It would take a couple weeks, a couple games, but I believe midseason I could possibly get in rotation.”
“They're telling me how much they need d-linemen and their want for d-linemen. ”
Solomon doesn’t have a lengthy history with any of the USC coaches, but seems to be developing a solid relationship with defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze.
“He told his story about how he wasn't a highly recruited guy coming out of high school, but he talked about opportunities,” Solomon said. “He got that one opportunity because a teammate of his was getting recruited by USC. He told me to just take it by stride really. He just really expressed how much they want me and they need me on the d-line.”
The Trojans’ assistant and former great will have a chance to get to know the national recruit with the potential to become a great when Solomon takes an official visit to USC the first weekend after the dead period ends. Solomon said he is looking for a place with a family atmosphere and he is interested to learn more about the academic opportunities at USC.
He is also looking to earn a degree that can set up his future after his football days are over.
“You can play football anywhere, but you can only get a good degree from only a certain few colleges, so I really just want to see the academic part of it.”
But even with their academic advantage, USC is facing an uphill battle for Solomon against Alabama with the school he was formerly committed to, Michigan, and Auburn, who will get an official visit on January 20, lurking as well. The Crimson Tide’s success defensively is hard to ignore. “It’s just unreal,” Solomon said.
To bring the defensive game changer home to California for the next four years, USC will need to pull out all the stops when Solomon visits. He thinks he could become the next defensive star the Tide put in the NFL and that’s why they currently are his top school.
“It’s a pretty big margin right now."
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