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Quarterback Anu Solomon’s journey to Waco included stops in Hawaii, Las Vegas and Tucson, Ariz.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

As the oldest of seven children from a close family in Hawaii, Anu Solomon learned how to accept responsibility at a young age.

Since both parents worked, Solomon often took care of his younger siblings, whether that meant preparing dinner or making sure they did their homework.

“Family is the most important thing in my culture,” Solomon said. “I was born taking care of all the young ones and just being responsible. It falls over to the football aspect of things. If we lose the game, I feel like I could have contributed more to the team and leading us to a win.”

Making his debut as Baylor’s starting quarterback following his transfer from Arizona, Solomon took last Saturday’s 48-45 season opening loss to Liberty personally.

His numbers were certainly good as he passed for 278 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 97 on just six carries. But the Bears lost to a school they should have beaten, and that wipes out any good vibes for Solomon.

“If I don’t lead my team to a win maybe there’s something I should have done better,” Solomon said. “Maybe it could be cheering people up on the sidelines or getting people ready. Just noticing we have a lot of young people on the field, maybe I should have been on the sidelines helping them out, telling them where to be at and certain defensive looks and things like that.”

Solomon’s leadership qualities were a big reason why Baylor coach Matt Rhule chose him to start after a heated competition with sophomore Zach Smith and freshman Charlie Brewer that began in spring drills and continued through preseason camp.

Rhule likes Solomon’s experience and ability to move out of the pocket and create plays with his feet.

“You like to have experience, you like to have a guy that’s been through the fire,” Rhule said. “I think that helps in situations that we’re in right now. He’s got that laid back, cool, nothing bothers him attitude. He’ll get the receivers in there on his own and they’ll watch the tape together. He’s a lead by example guy. I think he brings a nice demeanor to the group. There’s no panic.”

True to his nature, Solomon took the blame for his only turnover against Liberty, an interception by Chris Turner that was returned for a 32-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.

But Rhule said Baylor’s receiver didn’t run out his route on the play. If not for several dropped passes by Baylor’s young receiving corps, Solomon could have put up much bigger passing numbers after hitting 14 of 29 passes against the Flames.

“I’m not calling out the receivers, but as I said to them, everyone is going to talk about Anu, and he needed like two or three more guys to go out and make plays for him, and he throws for 400 yards,” Rhule said. “The pick-six is not on the quarterback. When you’re playing quarterback, your job is to not throw it to the underneath coverage and it’s the receiver’s job to be in between the ball and the deep coverage, and so our receiver ran the route and stopped.”

Solomon first gained a love for football as a kid growing up in Hawaii. Football is the sport of choice for most Polynesians in the islands, and Solomon began learning the game at a young age.

“We love the physical part of the game,” Solomon said. “You don’t see a lot of speed there but we have more Polynesian big guys. Where I grew up, my dad wanted to keep us out of the violence and in sports.”

Solomon grew up in Kalihi in a rough part of the Honolulu area that was infested by gangs. He said his father wanted a new start, so he moved the family to Las Vegas where he took a job in the tile business when Anu was 10 or 11.

Initially, Solomon had trouble adjusting to a culture outside of his Polynesian roots.

“Everything was different, the weather, community, terminology,” Solomon said. “People didn’t recognize me as Hawaiian. They thought I was either Mexican or native American because of my skin color. I really had long hair growing up with hair back to my butt.”

Solomon said he had to learn proper grammar after speaking a “pidgin” language in Hawaii.

“The thing that really got to me was terminology,” Solomon said. “Our first language in Hawaii is pidgin. It’s English, but our grammar is not there at all. People weren’t understanding me, I wasn’t understanding them. For example, people say ‘stay up’ in the mainland. It means live another day. When someone told me that, I actually stayed up that night like he was going to call me.”

Solomon began playing quarterback with a youth league team that was comprised of Polynesians. But when he entered high school, his parents steered him toward Bishop Gorman High School, which featured one of the most powerful athletic programs in Nevada.

After just one practice with the freshman team, Solomon was promoted to the varsity and quickly became the starting quarterback.

Solomon led Gorman to a 57-3 record and four straight state championships. As a senior in 2012, Solomon passed for 2,849 yards and 35 touchdowns and was rated a four-star recruit by Rivals.com.

As a passing and running threat, Solomon drew considerable interest from colleges across the country but chose Arizona because he felt he could play quickly for coach Rich Rodriguez.

“I’m not a prototypical quarterback where people are looking for a 6-5 skinny, tall guy,” Solomon said. “Here I am a little over 6-0. So it surprised me. I wanted to play right away, and Rich Rod wasn’t hesitant to play walk-ons or incoming freshmen. I went in to him and heard what he had to offer, and I thought it was the best opportunity for me to play right away.”

After redshirting his first year at Arizona, Solomon earned the starting job in 2014 and led the Wildcats to a surprising 10-4 record and the Pac-12 South Division title. He led all FBS freshmen with 3,793 yards passing while throwing 28 touchdown passes.

“That one year was surreal,” Solomon said. “We turned a lot of heads around the nation. It was a little surprising because going into the season we didn’t think we’d be 10-4 and going to the Fiesta Bowl. But we didn’t really pay attention to the outside noise.”

Going into the 2015 season with high expectations, Solomon passed for 2,667 yards and 20 touchdowns but suffered two concussions and missed three games.

In 2016, Solomon played in just five games due to knee and foot injuries. With one year of eligibility remaining, he felt it was time for a change and began looking for a school after graduating from Arizona last December.

Under NCAA rules, Solomon was immediately available to play as a graduate transfer, and he drew many suitors. Solomon hit it off with Shawn Bell, who had just joined Rhule’s staff in December after coaching at Round Rock Cedar Ridge High School.

Solomon didn’t even visit Baylor. But after speaking with Bell, he was sold on the Bears.

“He’s a good guy,” Solomon said. “I had been through the recruiting process already, so I don’t need to be wined and dined. Just shoot me the truth. What do you want? He said we want you.”

It didn’t bother Solomon that Baylor already had quarterback Zach Smith, who had led the Bears to a 31-12 win over Boise State in the Cactus Bowl last December. Solomon wanted competition and was glad Smith and Brewer both went through spring drills with him last spring.

“I had some schools call me and say if you come here you’re the guy,” Solomon said. “It bothered me just a little bit because I wanted to be able to compete. How am I going to get better? There’s always improvement for everything. I wanted to go somewhere to compete for a job where it brings the best out of me.”

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