By Jon Cooper | The Good Word -
There isn’t a lot that Georgia Tech cross country head coach Alan Drosky will say as far as motivation for his men’s cross country team as the Yellow Jackets head into Friday’s NCAA South Regionals at the Harry Pritchett Running Course in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (The race begins at 10 a.m. CT).
That’s fine. Nahom Solomon is happy to do the talking for him.
Of course, he’ll also back it up.
“I think coach Drosky sums it up best when he says, I talk a big talk,” said the 21-year-old senior from Snellville, Ga. “But he knows no matter what, as soon as I step on the line I’m going to put 100, 110 percent out there. That’s basically the way I run every meet. I put my heart and soul into every race, no matter how big or how small.”
Races don’t come much bigger than the South Regional and Solomon expects to come up big. He certainly looms largest among the Yellow Jackets. Nahom has been the team’s top runner in each race over the past two seasons and proved he’s one of the best in the ACC at last week’s conference championship, where he finished fourth overall.
He’s become the Yellow Jackets’ coach on the course and the inspirational leader in how he runs. He likes his role of being out front and literally runs there from the starting gun.
“I think being our front-runner is good for me,” he said. “I work well under pressure. So having all that pressure on my shoulders just gives me more reason to run faster.”
Solomon’s put up four top-five finishes in five races this fall -- the other race he finished sixth -- and, in the process, his jackrabbit ability combined with his staying power at the top has helped Georgia Tech rank fifth in the South Region.
“He’s pulling the rest of the team with him and he’s given us that front-runner that we’ve lacked, the guy that can finish high up in the race,” said Drosky. “He is a great competitor, has a lot of confidence in himself. He’s always had that confidence. Now he’s bringing the experience and the fitness to kind of match that confidence. It’s great to see it all coming together for him.
“He’s a team player as well,” Drosky added. “So he’s thrilled with how he’s running but he’s a team player. He knows what it would mean for the team to accomplish some of the things that they want to do. That’s still where his primary motivation is.”
Solomon is especially locked in looking to this weekend, as he’ll lead the Jackets into Regionals for the last time.
“I don’t think I can put into words how excited I am, not just individually but as a team, we’re poised to do some real damage,” he said. “Individually, I’m just super-pumped. This is my last NCAA cross country meet so it means a lot more. I’ve improved my standing every year so I just can’t wait to see what happens.”
Ideally, he hopes to see this trip to Tuscaloosa end as well as the last one, on Oct. 13, when the Yellow Jackets finished third, and he finished sixth, individually, with six other Jackets bunching up in spots 28-37.
Nahom has always been self-driven and always been a leader. That started at home, where he was motivated by his father Samuel Gebreyesus and mother Letensie Tesfamicael, who came to America as refugees, escaping their war-torn country of Eritrea in East Africa during its 30-year war of independence. He’d grow as a leader by being the oldest of four siblings.
“I’m reminded all too often that when my parents were children, they walked five kilometers to school and five kilometers back from school every day with a pile of textbooks in hand, which helps me put the races I run in perspective,” he told RamblinWreck.com in “Our Stories”. “My parents have told me stories of the unspeakable things they’ve been through, including when Ethiopian soldiers roamed through my mother’s village searching through the possessions in her home as she, then a young child, feared for her life. Their experiences keep me
“Family has been a major motivational force in everything I do,” he added, “Especially when it comes to running. Growing up in a household with four children, competition has been at the center of everything we do. As the oldest, I’ve always felt a responsibility to be the best, to carve a path that hopefully my younger siblings — Noah,
In fact, Nahom only got involved in running after being tricked by being told him he was doing conditioning for soccer. He’d come to love the sport.
He’d attend Georgia Tech, where his passion became infectious. That passion has allowed him to fight through injuries, like in the season-opening Jacksonville State Opener, where he won the race despite dealing with knee issues. He would be named ACC Performer of the Week.
“Both my knees were pretty banged up early in the season,” he recalled. “I was getting treatment in the training room that Wednesday, so I was just sitting there on the table and a couple of the other athletic trainers came up and congratulated me. Then I see my phone is blowing up. It was a great honor.”
“Even now I’m dealing with a little illness,” he added. “The main emphasis at this point in the season is maintaining health and rest. I’m not even focusing as much on hitting my times in the workout. Just making sure I’m recovered and ready because I’m going to need to be extremely healthy to go up against some of those top competitors, those already proven NCAA All-Americans.”
Solomon has a chance to prove he’s one and has held the team to that same high standard.
“I have to hold them accountable,” he said. “I just talk to them like, ‘Guys, I know you are just as good as I am. We’re going to roll together as a team because it’s not one person. One person doesn’t take you to the National meet. It’s five, seven, everybody pushing together.’”
Drosky believes the team pushing together behind Solomon has led to its success this year.
“The great thing about the team is I could list any one of the next 10 and any one of them could be the guy that runs the fantastic race and helps us achieve a great team finish,” he said. “Behind Nahom, there’s nine of them who I couldn’t predict a finish. Every time we’ve raced it’s been a different top 5. So that depth is an asset. But we need some of that group to be closer to Nahom. If they can be within a minute of Nahom then we’re going to have an outstanding meet.”
Nahom cites one final run to glory as the goal for Friday, then next Saturday at the NCAA Nationals in Louisville, where he was stellar at ACCs. It would provide an unforgettable cap to what has already been a memorable senior year.
“I really enjoyed watching the women’s team kick butt, that was really fun,” he said, with a laugh, referring to Georgia Tech’s last visit to Tuscaloosa where the women took the title. “Collectively, the guys who are now my age and one year below me, we’ve all been running together, training together, we have the same mindset: ‘Just trust the process. Our time is coming.’ We knew coming into this season, ‘This is where we put Georgia Tech back on the cross country map.’
“I really love the guys on the team. I just want to make them proud,” he added. “I hope that when they see me go out and chase guys who over the years have been much better than I am, I hope it inspires them to come after me and take down everybody else. They say they’re better than us but I think Georgia Tech is one of the best in the Conference, one of the best in the South. We’re going to prove that.”