BOULDER - Last Friday, Nate Solder's world was far less complicated than it will become over the next 24 hours. Perfectly cast in the role of "local kid makes good," Solder accepted an invitation six days ago to speak to about 200 elementary school students at an assembly in Buena Vista.
His message flirted with football (how could it not?), but it centered mostly on the other things that Solder practiced and came close to perfecting at the University of Colorado - citizenship, hard work, academic excellence and setting/meeting the highest standards. There might not be any finer example at CU or on any other campus of someone who diligently put the "student" in student-athlete during an athletic career.
Solder also played left tackle well enough during his three seasons at the position (he was a tight end until his sophomore year) to become a consensus All-America selection as a senior. Now, he is an odds-on favorite to be a first-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, a three-day affair that opens with Thursday's first round.
Ever the party animal, Solder will watch it with his parents and a few close friends at their horse ranch in the Leadville-Buena Vista area. In the frenzied months prior to the draft, he's stayed typically low-key and not allowed himself to become ensnared in the hype. If there is a favorite among the 32 franchises, he's wisely keeping it to himself.
"I don't want to play favorites right now," he told me last week. "I don't want to get my hopes up or be disappointed. I won't do that; wherever I end up will be great - and I don't want to betray that feeling."
His is a premier position in the NFL, and his size (6-foot-8, 319 pounds) and freakish athleticism make him a "must see" commodity for teams craving a QB protector. Dallas (ninth pick) has shown a keen interest in him, as has Indianapolis (22nd pick). But Solder knows all pre-draft interest is susceptible to draft day wheeling, dealing and that old fallback of "taking the best available player" that can demolish all pre-draft prognostications.
A couple of tackles - Southern California's Tyron Smith, Boston College's Anthony Castonzo - appear as highly regarded as Solder, but some draft watchers contend Solder's overall physical attributes and solid citizenship make him the more enticing pick and better long-term prospect.
Solder, though, isn't tracking the speculation. "I don't really have a feeling about it," he said. "I have no control over the whole process. All I know is that teams know almost every detail about you - and I wasn't real shocked about that. My approach to it all has been to just be real honest in all of my dealings with (the different teams). I won't undersell or oversell myself or my abilities."
Solder has looked to several former or current NFL left tackles for career pointers. During former CU guard Brad Bedell's stint on the Buffs staff, Bedell frequently mentioned ex-NFL greats Jonathan Ogden (Baltimore) and Tony Boselli (Jacksonville) as players Solder might emulate.
Ogden, Solder told the NFL Network, is a player "I've been watching for a long time. He's a big guy that moves great. He's a Hall of Fame guy, he's a good guy. That's the kind of guy that I want to be."
When time permitted over the last several seasons, he's scrutinized current NFL left tackles Joe Thomas (Cleveland) and Jake Long (Miami). "There are a number of guys I like watching, but I think those two guys are pretty good players," Solder said.
Every NFL left tackle on his radar shares physical traits that makes Solder so highly regarded, and he acknowledged that he will enter the league "with a lot of skills to be great. But working on the commitment to be great, all the details, working on those is going to be my approach."
Wherever he lands, Solder's NFL goals include winning a Super Bowl and being a consistently durable player. He told the NFL Network, "You're going to have a guy here that's going to be your All-Pro left tackle 15 years down the road. And if that's what (teams) want, then I'm the guy for them."
Solder's four-year CU career offers an insightful look at his durability. Of a possible 2,542 offensive plays from his sophomore through his senior seasons, Solder played 2,540.
Those two plays he missed in three years?
"I don't remember them," he said with a laugh. "Probably at the end of a game, I guess, when we threw in some second-string guys. I really don't remember coming out for any length of time . . . we had a lot of close games; there's wasn't a lot of time for starters to rest."
Solder's number of career sacks (five) and pressures (21) allowed were as impressive as his play total. Of his QB pressures, 14 of that total occurred during his sophomore season. Of his career sack total, two were yielded in last season's game at California - his only game of allowing multiple sacks.
As a senior, Solder became the first CU offensive tackle since Stan Brock (1979) to earn consensus All-America honors, and he's expected to be the first CU interior offensive lineman selected in the first round since New Orleans took guard Chris Naeole with the tenth overall pick in 1997.
Solder grasps what it will mean to be a potential first-rounder, calling Thursday "life-changing . . . it's going to be unreal." In the days leading up to it, he planned to keep "working out and staying busy - and not sitting around watching TV, listening to everything that's being said about the draft and where (draftees) are going. You can drive yourself crazy doing that."
Once the draft begins, he's been told he won't be waiting long for that life-altering telephone call. The best guesses - and "best" in this case can be miles and miles from reality - have him being selected in the first round's No. 22-23 range. That might make for a nervous night at the family ranch, but rest assured, he can afford to wait it out.