SANTA CLARA -- Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas was in a dark place during the season a year ago, and 49ers general manager John Lynch could not help but notice something was wrong.
“You see it in someone’s eyes, the clarity,” Lynch said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “You don’t see that same zest or juice.”
Months earlier, Thomas and his family were devastated after the suicide death of his sister and best friend, Ella. Thomas, the No. 3 overall draft pick of the 49ers in 2017, was in a dark place when Lynch approached him in the team’s cafeteria one day during the season.
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“Hey, Solly, this is beyond on the field,” Lynch told him that day. “But I just want you to know that Jed and the York family have made it possible that anything we need for the welfare of our players that we’re going to do, and we’ll get you help. I’m not telling you what to do, but I’m telling you, if you want to, we’d love to be able to provide that for you, and let me know.”
Thomas responded that he realized he needed assistance.
Said Lynch, “Then, he did the work, and I think he deserves that credit for doing the necessary work.”
Thomas sought treatment. It is not easy. He still struggles. But Thomas appears to be in a much better place as he enters his third NFL season. Thomas praised the 49ers for providing the resources for players to seek assistance with their mental health.
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“I was deep in the middle of the grieving phase of my life through losing my sister and it was a tough time for me and I wasn’t handling it well, mentally,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t reaching out for help. And, finally, when I reached out for help and got to a lighter place, and kind of let that storm go away, I see everything more clearly and I’m living a better life.
“It’s something I work on daily. It’s still a struggle, but daily I just try to work on my mental health, taking care of me, show myself self-love, talking positively, just trying to live a better life and live a happier life. It’s a lot of work, but it’s just like working on your body. You got to work on your brain. I’m trying to do all of that and keep mentally free, and just enjoy this life.”
Thomas gives Lynch a lot of credit for being there for him at a time when he needed it.
“John’s meant the world to me, from being in my first class at Stanford to drafting me, to being one to reach out to me in the hardest times of my life,” Thomas said. “He’s meant the world to me, and I can’t thank him enough for everything. (He’s) more than a GM to me. That’s different in this kind of atmosphere in business, but he is. And I can’t thank him and his family enough for everything they’ve done for me.”
Lynch said the connection to Thomas, which began when they randomly were in the same class at Stanford, is overstated. Lynch said his previous connection had nothing to do with his decision to invest his first 49ers draft pick in Thomas.
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“I picked him because I thought he could be a great player," Lynch said. "I still believe that.
“I think some things have happened, bringing a line coach in here and making some scheme changes that really play to Solly’s strengths, as well as a lot of our guys. And I think his mind is free right now, and we really believe the results are going to be good.”