By John Ingoldsby, Player Engagement Insider
New England’s Nate Solder has immense physical attributes, but his most distinguishing characteristic may be his huge heart.
At 6’8” and 325 pounds, the left tackle protects the blind side of arguably the NFL’s single most important asset in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but it’s off the field where he may do his most important work by helping others.
A commitment so significant that he was named this year’s Patriots nominee for the venerated Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award (WPMOY), which recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field as well as excellence on the field.
“It was a tremendous honor to be put in the community of nominees who dedicate their lives to supporting others so, I will continue to do the best I can,” said the humble first-round pick from 2011 thinking back to hearing the news from Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who referred to Solder as the “Prototype Patriot and Gentle Giant” while also bestowing upon him a $50,000 grant and two Super Bowl tickets.
“Mr. Kraft called me into his office to share the news, which I very much appreciated, and I am thankful that these nominations may shed light on the community causes which we live to support through our passion,” said Solder while sitting at his locker after practice a few days before the final regular season game against the New York Jets.
Those community causes seem countless for the University of Colorado alumnus.
“I work with various organizations, including Fresh Truck, which gets fresh food to people who need it most and where I am on the Board of Directors,” stated Solder, adding that he is also involved with, among others, the Patriots Foundation, the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, and the world-renowned Jimmy Fund with his son.
It’s because of his boy that the Jimmy Fund holds personal meaning for Solder and his wife, Lexi, since their son, Hudson, has been diagnosed with Wilms’ tumors (also known as neuroblastoma) and is currently undergoing 13 weeks of chemotherapy.
“He’s doing well,” said Solder, who himself was diagnosed with testicular cancer three years ago.
This family affair was also highlighted by the seven-year veteran during the NFL’s recent “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign, where Solder worked with local Artist Brian Fox to design a pair of yellow-based shoes with a “Cure Childhood Cancer” ribbon and a picture of Hudson beside the phrase, “Tough Like My Dad.”
It’s precisely this type of dedication, which for years included numerous impromptu visits to hospitals and events where his support is valued, that has earned him accolades in the past.
Among the most notable was in 2015 when he received perhaps the most important Patriots honor of them all -- the 2015 Ron Burton Community Service Award, named for the first-ever Patriot draftee whose community leadership and charitable works has served as a model for players since.
A model that Solder has more than upheld during his stellar career in New England, where his exemplary approach and personal experiences have combined to lift the lives of those who encounter this huge-hearted man.
John Ingoldsby is the President and Founder of IIR Sports, Inc. (www.IIRSports.com), a sports media firm based in Boston. He has covered the NFL throughout his career that began as a newspaper reporter/editor, and his articles have appeared in Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine (NFL Player Engagement), London-based Financial Times newspaper (NFL's international strategy), the Philadelphia Daily News (Annual NFC Coaches Breakfast) and the Boston Globe (Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll).