Not once, in their 31 years in Baltimore, did the Colts take a Maryland Terrapin No. 1 in the NFL draft. So what happened as soon as the team moved to Indianapolis? A Terp was one of its two first-round picks in 1984.
Ron Solt sees the irony.
“I would like to have played in Baltimore,” said Solt, 55, an All-America guard at Maryland and the second offensive lineman to go in that draft. “The only pro game I ever saw as a kid was at Memorial Stadium.”
Born in Bainbridge but raised in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Solt started three years for the Terps and helped them reach two bowl games before turning pro. He played nine years in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl in 1987, when the Colts won a division title. That year, Solt carved holes for Eric Dickerson, then a first-team All-Pro running back, just as he had in college for rushers like Charlie Wysocki and Willie Joyner.
Solt remains Maryland’s only full-time offensive lineman ever chosen in the first round of the pro draft. A three-year starter in College Park, he was a bulwark up front for the Terps, who went 16-8 in his last two seasons and played in the Aloha and Citrus bowls, losing both by a total of eight points.
“We should have won both,” he said from his home in Harding, Pa. Quarterback Boomer Esiason passed for more than 4,600 yards in those two years as Maryland won seven straight games one season and six, the next. Solt was Esiason’s sentinel-of-choice — and the 6-foot-3, 280-pound player kept improving.
“Quick feet, great strength, a good thinker,” Terps coach Bobby Ross once said of him. “There was never any question of Ronnie’s natural ability, it was a matter of how … aggressive he would become.”
Solt credits his growth to Ralph Friedgen, then Maryland’s offensive coordinator.
“Best coach I ever had. He brought out my raw talent,” he said of Friedgen, the Terps’ head coach from 2001 through 2010. “He treated 18-year-old kids like men. He’d have the whole offensive line to his house for cookouts, knowing that when [players] develop a bond with their coach, they work harder.”
Longtime friends, the two went bass fishing last spring.
That camaraderie with his coaches didn’t last in the pros. Once picked by the Colts, with the draft choice obtained from the Denver Broncos in the John Elway trade, Solt received a call from Indianapolis coach Frank Kush.
“Can you step right in and start for us?” Kush asked.
“Yes,” Solt said.
“That’s good, otherwise I’d have to kick your butt,” the coach replied.
Kush was “unique,” Solt said. “My first day at camp, I walked into the meeting room, not 30 seconds late. He shut the door in my face and said, ‘You’re fined $500.’ It was a good lesson; I’ve never been late since.”
He played four full years with the Colts, then was dealt to Philadelphia, where he spent nearly four more before returning to the Colts in 1992 and then retiring. He’s now a regional distributor from a firm that sells CBD oil, a painkiller made from cannabis plants. A son, Ryan Solt, 18, plays football for University at Albany as a 290-pound offensive lineman.
“The most I ever weighed was 312, my second year in the pros,” Solt said. “I was so fat that when I put my hand on the ground, my belly would hit my elbow. So I lifted weights, dropped to 285 and made the Pro Bowl.”
In hindsight, he said, there are few regrets.
“I wish I’d left Maryland with my degree, but I majored in football,” he said.
In 1989, while playing for the Eagles, Solt was suspended for four games for using steroids.
“Would it have been better if I hadn’t gone to college and just worked at the shoe factory in Wilkes-Barre, like everyone else?” he said. “If I had, I wouldn’t be talking to you today. God had different plans for me; he gave me what he did for a reason.”