A little over one year ago, 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas suffered the horrific tragedy of losing his sister and best friend, Ella, after a battle with depression caused her to take her own life.
Thomas and his family have understandably struggled to find peace. Thankfully for them, time and taking an active role raising mental health awareness have contributed to their healing process.
In May, Thomas spoke to the local media about the importance of his own therapy and continuing the conversation about mental health. His goal is not only for his own benefit but to reduce the stigma of therapy being seen as emasculating or as a weakness.
"I probably had the worst season ever in my life last year & I'm the most confident I've ever been in my career right now. That says a lot." #49ers Solomon Thomas is mentally healthy, & feeling like a new person because of it.— Jennifer Lee Chan (@jenniferleechan) May 22, 2019
Why wants to he wants to keep the convo going ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/VsW51tTVcy
"That's been a long process," Thomas said. "It's been hard to find. The first year was really hard for me, all the phases of anger, depression, sadness, guilt, grief, all that kind of stuff. So it's been hard for me to get healthy, and it took me a while. And once I was, I was a different person. I was light on my feet and could finally walk and move again."
Thomas had a solid rookie year as the No. 3 overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, but his bout with depression showed itself on the field during his sophomore campaign. His teammates were not aware of his mental struggles at the time but in retrospect, see how it affected his play.
Before the six week break, several players spoke with NBC Sports Bay Area about the change they've seen in Thomas during OTAs and mandatory mini-camp. Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner believes that 49ers fans will be very happy with what they see from Thomas as he heads into his third year.
"Solomon's mindset has been phenomenal since he's got back from the little break," Buckner said. "He was dealing with a lot last year and we all understand and honestly, the mentality, the chip that he has on his shoulder this year is amazing.
"Seeing him come into work every day and improve, and seeing a different Solomon around the office, I just think he found a little peace with everything. Just to see his mindset this year is very exciting and I can't wait for the Faithful to see it on Sundays."
Fellow defensive lineman Arik Armstead explained how he has seen improved play from Thomas during OTAs and knows that it will carry over to the season.
"Solomon has been playing great in practice and it's really exciting to see," Armstead said. "We're brothers on the field and the more we all can do collectively the better we all play together.
"The sky is the limit for us. To see him playing well, especially what he went through last year, and is still is dealing with continually, and will for the rest of his life, I'm just praying for him. I really want the best for him and his career on and off the field. It's definitely good to see him succeeding."
Cornerback Richard Sherman detailed the change in what he's seen from Thomas, both on and off the field. He sees a much more positive and productive season for his fellow Stanford alum.
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"He's just so much more energized," Sherman said. "He's smiling more, he's talking more. You try not to judge anybody because everybody has a different journey and a different way of approaching things, but you could see that he was burdened last year and who wouldn't be with that kind of tragedy.
"But this year you can just see a determination in him, and a freedom, like the shackles have been taken off, the weight has been lifted off his shoulders and he's just really been getting after it. I look forward to seeing him have success and everything that comes with that. The pats on the back, the accolades, the fan adoration, because he deserves it."
49ers impressed by 'different Solomon' Thomas a year after tragedy originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area