Solomon Ajayi may be a Cleveland Browns player now, but he came very close to not being selected by any team this year after going undrafted, and tells ESPN it was one of the more nerve-wracking experiences of his life.
The younger brother of free agent running back Jay Ajayi, ‘Solo’ watched his name slip down, down, down the virtual board until it was no longer on it, after being unable to show off his skills at a pro day due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Coming off a small program at Liberty, Ajayi did not hold out much hope of getting drafted early, but he at least thought he’d be in the top 254 names called. When he wasn’t, he had to wait.
He tells ESPN: “It was really nerve-wracking because I didn’t know what was going to happen, if I was going to get picked up or how it was going to work out.
“But I just kept faith because I was back home with my family and we were just staying positive, being around each other and I was lucky enough Cleveland said they wanted to sign me so I thank God for the opportunity.”
But the fight is by no means over. His next battle is to force his way into the Browns’ 53-man roster, and it is a contest the young linebacker has already primed himself for.
He adds: “I think I have to work extremely really hard, I don’t want to view it as I got signed or I got picked by the team and the work is finished.
“I feel like now the work really has to ramp up more and I have to work harder than I have ever done before. I have to really dive into the play book and make sure I know everything team-wise.
“Once I get up there [to Cleveland], I have to make a good impression out there on all the coaches. It’s a grind, especially with all the stuff going on right now, I just have to make sure I stay active.
“Corona’s shutting a lot stuff down lately and I’m just finding different ways to just get work in. It’s going to be a challenge to make the 53-man roster but I’m definitely up for it.”
It does help that he has a Super Bowl ring-wearer in the family to learn from. Big brother Jay has already set some high standards by winning a ring with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, Solo says: “He definitely set the bar high in his first three years in the NFL.
“In his second year he had the Pro Bowl and in his third year he was Super Bowl champion. He has definitely given me something to chase for my career.
“I’m excited that he did and I can’t wait to get mine so we can have two Super Bowl rings in the family.”
Solomon Ajayi credits his brother Jay Ajayi for giving the Ajayi name status in NFL after winning SB LII with the Eagles.
Jay’s influence has been immense in shaping Solomon’s football career, he adds: “He is the one that got me into football. He was the first that played football in my family so he was the one who introduced it to me.
“Every step of the way, I have looked up to him and his process. Growing up with him and seeing go from high school to college and to the NFL gives me hope and helps me see how possible it is, how achievable it is and I just have to keep working hard.
“Everything he has and all he has accomplished motivates me and tells me my brother is working hard so I have to work hard too. I look forward to the day I will see him on the field in the NFL.”
The younger Ajayi, who was born in the U.K. to Nigerian parents [as opposed to Jay, who was born in London], will have a few Nigerian ‘brothers’ in the Browns dressing room too, to help him along.
Ajayi was one of 11 Nigeria-connected players picked up this year, the highest tally for a draft ever. Over the years, the Browns have sported nine Nigerian players, the most of any team.
Of his connection to the African powerhouse, Ajayi says: “Being Nigerians, we have a certain pride in our country and where we come from so I’m glad this is the biggest draft [for us] right now and I’m glad to be a part of it.
“I’m glad to be helping build American football in Nigeria and hopefully getting more people to come and play because it is obvious that Nigerians are very talented… to keep building the rapport with Nigerians in the NFL and keep watching it grow, year on year.”
Cleveland Browns linebacker Solomon Ajayi speaks about how the New York Giants’ Osi Umenyiora influenced him.
Aside from David Njoku on the Browns, with whom Ajayi shares the Nigeria connection, he’s not unfamiliar with many of his team-mates, thanks to visiting the Pro Bowl with Jay.
He says: “I had the luxury to meet a couple of the players, I met [Odell] Beckham at the Pro Bowl in 2017, also a couple of players that play for the Browns like David Njoku, they were in Miami when I was trying for the drafts.
“I have been pretty familiar with them and I’m very excited to meet a lot of players on the team. I feel like they’re one of the most talented players in the NFL. Guys like Beckham, [Jarvis] Landry, [Baker] Mayfield. It will be very exciting to play with the team.”
He has high hopes for the Browns this coming season, despite their somewhat disappointing 2019, saying: “I think we’re going all the way. I have complete confidence in the team.
“We have a lot of talent but we just have to be ready to work. With everything going on in the world, it’s making it shaky with sports but the new regime we have coming in, with the general manager and the coaching staff, I feel they are the right set of people to help turn things around and get us as far as we want to go.”
Ultimately though, he wants to show fans that the Browns made the right call, and that the 254 names called ahead of him are not superior by default.
He adds: “I’m used to being under recruited and not being on everyone’s radar. I see it as a chip on my shoulder and I don’t really care how I get in there.
“You put me next to your first rounder and I’m going to show out. I have confidence in myself, I know I can be a game changer for any team and I glad to be who I am.
“I’m just excited to go out on the field and prove them right to they have taken a chance on me.”