FOXBOROUGH — Three years ago, football was Nate Solder’s biggest source of stress. How many sacks or pressures was he allowing? Were the Patriots winning enough games? What was happening with his contract situation?
He still loved the game, but job performance was still the thing that weighed most heavily on his mind.
“I think if you’d asked me a couple years ago I’d say the biggest stress in my life is football and I think now that’s not the case, it’s actually one of the biggest outlets and the things that I get to enjoy the most,” Solder said.
Football became an outlet through necessity. In 2014, Solder was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He returned in 2015, only to tear his biceps after just four games and miss the remainder of the season.
Solder only had just begun his recovery when he and his wife Lexi found out their infant son Hudson was diagnosed with a Wilms’ tumor, a form of kidney cancer that is most common in children.
“It’s been difficult,” Solder said. “For example, Hudson’s at the Jimmy Fund this afternoon and he’s meeting with doctors and that’s kind of been throughout the season so you know, I have to give a lot of credit to Jesus, getting me through it.
“A lot of times I feel weak and through my faith he’s carried me through a lot of it and I’ve got a fantastic wife and fantastic family.”
For his resilience, the Patriots announced Tuesday that Solder was voted by his teammates as the team’s Ed Block Courage Award Winner for 2016. One player from each team wins the award, which recognizes players “who demonstrate commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage,” according to a team release.
Solder said that Hudson is doing well and getting through his treatment, but the helpless feeling of caring for a sick child has put football in perspective for him.
“You know, it levels the playing field for all of us because all of us are susceptible to cancer, disease, some of the tough things that so many people struggle with,” Solder said. “So you realize how lucky we are just to have our health and to be able to play this game and to do the things that we love.”
“I’m very thankful for all the opportunities that I have and just how close it is to this all being over is always right there.”
In Week 13, when players could wear custom-designed game cleats reflecting the causes they support, Solder wore a pair hand-painted to represent the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, which provides support to cancer patients and their families.
Solder, 28, said he’s not sure if his experiences have made him more mature, but he’s grateful to play a game for work.
“This is a fun game to get to play and get away from that have-to-be-mature state and you get to have fun out here with the guys,” he said.
At the same time, there are days when he’d rather be at home helping his wife, though Solder said the Patriots have made sure he’s been able to be at home when he needs to be and be available for Hudson’s doctor’s appointments.
“I’ve been able to make almost everything, I haven’t missed much of that, but there are definitely times where the thought of playing football is tough when you have so many other things weighing on your mind,” Solder said.
Even so, Solder has had an excellent 2016 season on the field. It seems fitting that the Patriots’ trainers were honored with their own Ed Block Courage Award for being the NFL’s athletic training staff of the year. The award was voted by the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society.
“I have to give a lot of the credit to the training staff, they’ve done such an awesome job,” Solder said. “Jim Whalen, Joe Van Allen, Sean Jordan, who used to be here, just poured a lot into me getting back and playing well this year, staying out and staying healthy, so I give a lot of credit to those guys.”
The 39th annual Ed Block Courage Awards will be presented March 9 in Baltimore.
Hogan ‘feeling good’
Wide receiver Chris Hogan, who left Saturday’s game with a thigh injury, was in the locker room Tuesday, walking without a visible limp or a boot. Hogan said he’s taking things day by day with his injury.
“I’m feeling good, just had a little minor setback in the game, but I’m working back every single day and I’m feeling better every day,” Hogan said.
Hogan left the Texans game midway through the third quarter. Hogan said there was a good chance he could have played had the situation necessitated it.
“It was the right decision not to [return to the game],” Hogan said.
Hogan expects to return to practice this week, a positive sign for his availability to play against the Steelers on Sunday.
The Patriots have Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Michael Floyd healthy enough to play and are expecting Malcolm Mitchell back soon.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there and practicing this week,” Hogan said.
Not in their house
Questions regarding Antonio Brown’s live-streamed video of the Steelers’ postgame celebration were still buzzing around the Patriots’ locker room.
Patriots players predictably avoided the controversy, and said they know not to post similar content from their locker room.
Matthew Slater said the Patriots have a social media policy that is “strictly enforced,” but didn’t want to get into specifics.
Hogan cited the existence of an NFL-wide policy, something he said has come up at Gillette Stadium since Brown posted the video.
“I believe there’s one for the NFL and we were reminded of that and I’m not sure what the timing is, but obviously I don’t think we’ll see guys doing that in the locker room,” Hogan said.
Trey Flowers said the Patriots don’t even need a policy. They know automatically that exposing their teammates to criticism on social media doesn’t fly.
“I just think it’s a lot of the atmosphere around here, you know just what to do and what not to do on things like that,” Flowers said.
Hogan was also asked if he cared whether or not NFL commissioner Roger Goodell pays a visit to Foxborough on Sunday. Goodell, who has not visited Gillette Stadium since Deflategate began, plans to attend the NFC Championship game instead. “I could not care less,” Hogan said.