DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii linebacker Solomon Eliminian, who works part-time at Loveland Academy, a school for autistic children, helped Margaret Liu with her footwork in this drill.
All the right moves
Solomon Elimimian can thank his brother for steering him out of trouble and toward Hawaii
STORY SUMMARY »
The Star-Bulletin's series of weekly features about University of Hawaii football players preparing for the upcoming season continues today with a profile of junior linebacker Solomon Elimimian.
Younger brother of former Warriors standout cornerback Abraham Elimimian, Solomon wasn't exactly enamored with Hawaii during his early days in the program. But much like the elder Elimimian did for Solomon when he was in high school, Abraham convinced Solomon to stick it out and the middle linebacker is glad he did.
He spent the spring learning a new system under defensive coordinator Greg McMackin and the summer working a part-time job at Loveland Academy, teaching physical education to youngsters age 11-18 who have autism.
"It's a real joy for me. The kids are great. I learn a lot of things from them," Elimimian said.
"One thing I found out is these kids try harder than we try," he added.
"It's fun working with them. It's a whole different environment than school and football and I enjoy it."
He also plans to enjoy himself on the football field come the fall.
FULL STORY »
Solomon and Abraham Elimimian weren't particularly close while growing up in the same house in Los Angeles in the 1990s. But Solomon, the younger by five years, respected his eldest brother's wishes for him not to join a gang when it looked like the right thing to do in the eyes of the 12-year-old and not-so-wise Solomon.
A few months later, Abraham was off to Hawaii to go to college and play football, leaving Solomon to resist the temptations of some of L.A.'s meanest streets. Being from a family of immigrants (the Elimimians moved from Nigeria when Solomon was a baby) added to the pressure to conform.
"He was at a crossroads," Abraham said. "I gave him some advice, but it was Solomon who decided to be a leader and not a follower and take the right path."
Solomon said the choice was made for him, by big brother Abraham. He resented it at the time, but now knows a huge favor was done for him.
"If it wasn't for him, I'd probably be in a gang right now," said Solomon, now a junior English major and starting middle linebacker at UH. "A lot of kids who were in gangs were my friends and I used to hang out with them a lot. There were a lot of situations. My brother found out and told me to stop. It's kind of fun and trendy, but my brother, he stopped me where I was at."
It also helped that his father, Isaac, an English professor, helped give Solomon a view of the world beyond South Central.
"My father instilled a lot of great qualities in me. We looked beyond the neighborhood. He always had me reading newspapers. So I got a wider perspective of how life is," Solomon said.
ABRAHAM STARTED four years at cornerback at UH, four winning seasons, while Solomon was making his mark as a high school standout at Crenshaw. He was not initially excited about following his brother to UH, especially since he also had an offer from Cal. Berkeley appealed to him because of its academic reputation and relative closeness to home. But something told him to go to Hawaii, that he could become more than Abe's little brother at Manoa.
At first, even though he started as a true freshman in 2005, Solomon didn't think he'd made the right choice this time.
"Probably that whole season. It was hard adjusting," Solomon said. "A lot of things happened fast. I learned to handle it."
Abraham told him to hang in there, he'd get used to the lifestyle, the different pace -- dealing with being in the middle of a laid-back culture, but with so many personal responsibilities to school and team. Abraham knew he could do it.
"He didn't believe me," Abraham said. "He was, yeah, yeah, but I could tell he didn't believe me when I told him he'd end up loving Hawaii. Now he won't leave."
Abraham didn't give up on Solomon, and Solomon didn't give up on Hawaii. They bonded while burning up their cell-phone minutes, with Abraham struggling to get NFL tryouts, and Solomon dealing with a new level of football and studies.
"The first year here for me was hard and the only person who understood it was my brother," Solomon said. "I talk to him about every other day now. Since I came to Hawaii we got very close. The age difference, five, six years apart, we never had a close bond. He was in Hawaii and I was with our family."
One of the things Abraham had to convince Solomon about was the Hawaii concept of ohana -- extended family. Abraham told Solomon to trust his new teammates and coaches, they are now his family. Believe in them and trust them, unconditionally.
The trust went both ways, as Solomon established himself quickly as a person and player as reliable as his older brother. Solomon shined with 83 tackles in 12 games and soon became a team leader despite his quiet demeanor. He said linebackers coach Cal Lee helped him adjust to the island lifestyle, as well as college football and school.
"Coach Cal goes beyond football. It's like a father-son relationship in a lot of ways," he said.
He had a new extended family, a new ohana. And it is getting stronger as the Warriors prepare for the 2007 season after going 11-3 last fall, when Solomon was second in tackles with 89 despite missing two games with a sprained knee.
"I think that's why our team is as good as we are. We have ohana," Solomon said. "There's different colors, different cultures. But we don't look at color. Last year it was a big year due to that. We love each other in another aspect -- it's not just about football. And it's not cliques here and there. It's the whole team."
Going to school and playing football with Caucasians and Polynesians was all new for Solomon. Crenshaw was 75 percent African-American and 25 percent Hispanic, he said.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Among the kids Warriors linebacker Solomon Elimimian works with at Loveland Academy, a school for autistic children, are Margaret Liu, Vance Grossman, Justin Baptiste, Matthew Ogata and Maulu McGregor-McCormick.
SOLOMON STAYED in Hawaii this summer to take classes and train. Lee found him the perfect part-time job, one that has allowed him to extend his ohana even further. He works about 20 hours a week at Loveland Academy on Piikoi Street, teaching physical education to youngsters ages 11-18 who have autism.
"He's a good role model," Loveland teacher Gerald Wong said. "They look forward to seeing him and they're very excited about UH football."
Elimimian said he looks forward to every day at Loveland.
"It's a real joy for me. The kids are great. I learn a lot of things from them," Elimimian said. "One thing I found out is these kids try harder than we try. It's fun working with them. It's a whole different environment than school and footbalI and I enjoy it."
Elimimian said working with the Loveland students has helped him develop patience. His supervisor, Nate Dudoit, said he had the ability to do the job from the first day because of the same reason Elimimian stepped in as a starter at UH right away: solid instincts.
"He's able to reach these kids with his heart and personality," Dudoit said. "He's a natural working with kids. He's one of a kind. He just steps in and does the right thing."
Elimimian said he'll be giving his tickets to the Loveland kids this season. They won't care who the Warriors are playing. They just want to see Solomon and the rest of the UH players in action.
"They know I play football for UH, and they're always asking how Colt's (Brennan) doing, how's Davone (Bess) is doing," Elimimian said. "This kind of work, and other appearances we do to impact young people, we all look at it as an opportunity."
ELIMIMIAN IS once again adapting, this time on the field to a new defensive scheme with Greg McMackin replacing Jerry Glanville as UH defensive coordinator. This change, becoming the lone middle linebacker in the 4-3 formation, is easy to deal with, he said.
"I think it's coming natural for me. A linebacker's heart is a linebacker's heart, you know? It doesn't change that you've got to hit and you've got to run," Elimimian said. "A lot of the guys on our team are intelligent. Our whole defense is picking it up pretty good. As far as me, I love the transition. I think it fits our personnel better. Guys can actually play now that couldn't before. It's a joy for us. Like (defensive end) Karl Noa, he's going to have a really good year this year."
Elimimian said he doesn't mind the community's heightened expectations for this year's team.
"I think, for us, we embrace it. We're confident, in ourselves and the next guy, every guy. We're very confident in everybody on the team," he said. "We have chemistry and enough talent to run the table. We know we have to take every game as critical. We can't just go into a game thinking, we're gonna blow out Northern Colorado or Charleston Southern. We understand that every game is an important game and we have to respect every opponent."
While his impact on Hawaii football is high-profile, Elimimian sees his working with the Loveland students as just as important, if not more.
"It was time for me to get out of the anonymous life of school and football," he said. "The kids here are the same (as in Crenshaw). Different skin color, but the same, because they just want an opportunity. I feel like I'm always going to have something to do with kids. I know how important opportunities are for them."
AND NOW, it is Solomon's turn to provide moral support for his older brother. After a couple of years in the now defunct NFL Europa and just missing making the Chicago Bears last season, Abraham said he is probably giving up on his pro football dream. He will probably go into real estate and coach at his high school alma mater.
And he will catch as many of his brother's games as possible. Abraham is prouder, though, of Solomon's commitment to his other ohana, the one at Loveland.
"He's learned that when you give, you end up getting a lot back," Abraham said.
"He's always been a really good person, quiet and thoughtful and caring. Now he's showing it."