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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Tennessee defensive lineman Aubrey Solomon works against Georgia offensive lineman Cade Mays on Oct. 5 at Neyland Stadium.

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's struggles in recent years have surely left some football recruits wondering why in the world they would choose the Knoxville program over any other number of opportunities they might have across the country.

Aubrey Solomon has a message for them: "Why not?"

The 6-foot-3, 299-pound defensive lineman was faced with a similar decision after entering the NCAA transfer portal after two seasons at Michigan. Solomon knew exactly where he wanted to go, though.

"I actually initiated the contact with them because I'd seen who all was here in Tennessee," Solomon said, "and I was like, literally everybody here recruited me, everybody knows me. I was like, let me reach out, let me see what I could do, let me see if I could play there.

"Coach (Tracy) Rocker, Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt — it was the combination of both of them being here," he said of the Volunteers' defensive line coach and head coach. "Just seeing a head coach who really cares about his players way beyond football. He cares about you becoming a man, becoming a father, stuff like that. That, to me, really showed me he really cares about you beyond football, beyond the X's and O's, and the same thing with Coach Rocker. I was like, this is a no-brainer."

Rocker has had one of the toughest jobs on the Tennessee staff this season, considering there was no experience returning on the defensive line, especially after senior Emmit Gooden tore an ACL in the preseason. Solomon had 18 games of experience at Michigan, which made his transfer waiver appeal being accepted by the NCAA that much more important.

He missed much of the 2018 season, and it took a while for him to get back into playing rhythm, but in the past four games he has registered his first two sacks and has become a vital piece of the defensive line.

He credited his relationship with Rocker for not only getting him to Tennessee, but the improvement made since arriving.

"Coach Rocker, to me he's like a father figure," Solomon said. "There's nobody else I'd rather have coaching me than Coach Rocker. It's unreal, because he's recruited me since I was in like eighth grade. I really know Coach Rocker a lot, but he's a mentor, he's a father figure and he's a hell of a coach."

That's why it wasn't a hard decision regarding where he was going to spend his final two seasons of college football.

"Tennessee, they have legends here. Coach Pruitt, Coach Rocker, Coach D.A. (defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley), coaches like that, the coaching staff they have, the atmosphere here — it's incredible.

"It's unbelievable, so the real question is why wait, why not choose Tennessee?"

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.

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