Alex Solot's high school baseball career was a brief one: three at-bats and a lifetime average of .000. They stuck him in right field, and it wasn't long before he got the message.
But, goodness, he looked like he should be playing something. He was 6 feet 7 inches, maybe 250 pounds, and it wasn't all baby fat.
Solot had football genes the way few people do: His uncle, David Bounds, was a key offensive lineman when Clemson won the 1981 national title. His grandfather, Red Bounds, was a lineman of note at Tulane.
"Alex hadn't played Pop Warner football because he was too big," his father, Tucson attorney Alan Solot remembers. "So when he went to his high school orientation, he asked to sign up for baseball."
Predictably, it wasn't long before Alex Solot was playing freshman football at Rincon/University High School. He wasn't very good, either. He didn't make the varsity until he was a 6-7, 270-pound junior.
"At 15, he wasn't ready for the intensity of varsity football," his Rincon coach, Matt Johnson, says now. "Alex lacked confidence in himself. He was quiet and introverted, but I thought, if you're patient with this young man, you will be rewarded."
Johnson kept that in mind as Solot developed into a starter, then a star. Recruiting letters arrived from Nebraska and Arizona and Oregon. Ultimately, Solot signed with UTEP.
"If you asked Alex's friends, at 15, if he would be a college football player, they would've said no," Johnson says. "Alex would've said no, too.
"But I always thought that when he got to UTEP, if they were patient with him the way we were at Rincon, if they gave him time to grow and to find himself, he would produce."
Saturday afternoon at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark., Alex Solot will start his 24th college football game for the UTEP Miners.
The rewards have arrived. At 6-8, 310 pounds, Solot is considered an all-league type right tackle in Conference USA and a prospect for the 2011 NFL draft.
None of it has been easy.
"I started out way, way, down the depth chart, and I've had to dig myself out of a hole academically," he says. "But you know, now that I'm in my last few games, I feel like I belong. It has been a long five years, but I've grown and found a home."
Grown? How about this: In the off-season, Solot drove from El Paso to Tucson, on his own time and own dime, and went to lunch with several of Johnson's young linemen at Ironwood Ridge High School.
"Alex told them what I can't tell them," Johnson says. "He tells them how hard it is, what it's like to succeed at the high school level and at the college level. They listen to him. I get such a kick out of watching him.
"That young, shy guy from Rincon High School now presents himself like a man, carries himself like a man."
Solot's peers, the high school seniors selected to the 2005 All-Southern Arizona football team, scattered to almost every conceivable college scholarship opportunity.
Sabino receiver Codi Harshman played baseball at Pima College and Arizona before hitting .358 at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. Sunnyside tailback Michael Smith gained 1,002 yards at Eastern Arizona College and now is the third-string tailback at Utah State.
Cholla quarterback Cody House started eight games at Western New Mexico in 2008 and 2009 and this season completed his career holding a clipboard on the sidelines. Salpointe fullback Nick Cole graduated from Holy Cross in four years, catching five touchdown passes for the Patriot League champs last fall.
Solot didn't get anywhere near the attention most of those 2005 all-stars did. He wasn't considered in a class with Sabino linebacker Brooks Reed or Cienega receiver Bryce Burnett, to name a couple. But with two regular-season games remaining in his college career, Solot's identity is established: The would-be baseball player has become one of the top college football players ever produced in Tucson.
"It took him two years to figure it out at UTEP," his father says. "Last year, when they were playing at (No. 2) Texas, he played really well. They lost 64-7, but I kept the binoculars on Alex every play. It was the first time I thought 'he can really do this.'"
The Miners haven't done as well. Although they are bowl-eligible (6-4), they are 24-34 in Solot's career. His shining moment: starting at right tackle when the Miners bumped off No. 12 Houston 58-41 last year. He was voted the teams' Most Improved Player of 2009.
Now he waits for a possible bowl game, perhaps next month's Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, a college all-star game or two and, eventually, the NFL draft.
"Alex re-invented himself in high school and in college," says Johnson. "If the right NFL team drafts him, shows some patience, they'll be rewarded the way we were at Rincon and the way they've been rewarded at UTEP."
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or email@example.com