SANTA CLARA – Leading up to Stanford’s bowl game, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas was mostly an under-the-radar draft prospect.
John Lynch had known all about him for a few years. He even called some NFL teams to give them a heads-up to watch No. 90 -- long before he was hired to run the 49ers' personnel department.
After trading back one spot with the Chicago Bears, Lynch made Thomas his first selection as 49ers general manager. The 49ers drafted Thomas with the No. 3 overall pick.
“I want to make it the best draft pick he has,” Thomas said on Thursday.
Thomas first met Lynch during his freshman year at Stanford. Lynch returned to Stanford to finish his degree. They took a class together: Management Science and Engineering.
According to MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas, they even collaborated on a project of whether the NFL’s Washington team should change its mascot name.
“I remember I was star-stuck the first day of class,” Thomas said.
Thomas said they did not talk much in the following years, but Thomas reached out to Lynch for advice before Stanford’s game against North Carolina in the Sun Bowl.
Said Thomas, “In the pre-draft process before the North Carolina game, he told me: ‘Don’t worry about the external stuff going on. Worry about yourself and your team. The best thing you can do is have the best bowl game possible and show you’re unstoppable and unblockable.”
That is exactly what Thomas did in Stanford’s 25-23 victory over Mitchell Trubisky’s team. Thomas recorded seven tackles, two behind the line of scrimmage, and a sack.
A month later, Lynch was hired as 49ers general manager and Thomas first began to think about the possibility of being drafted by his former classmate.
“I thought it was definitely a possibility,” Thomas said. “People really hadn’t watched my film yet, so I didn’t know if I’d go that high.”
Thomas was routinely matched with the 49ers in mock drafts in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s first round. The 49ers swapped their second pick with the Chicago Bears, who moved up to select Trubisky.
All along, Thomas said he wanted the 49ers to draft him.
“In my head I thought, ‘I love that, but I can’t ride the rollercoaster and believe that stuff or I’m going to get my heart broken.’ I kept my mind open and came in blind and tried to be happy for any team to draft me,” Thomas said. “But the best team for me drafted me and the best team I wanted to draft me drafted me.
“I love John Lynch. I love the way he played the mentality that he’s going to bring to the team. Coach (Kyle) Shanahan seems like an amazing man and an amazing coach.”