The men’s flag football scene has evolved considerably since the game was first played in Cayman in the late ‘90s, and one of the few to be involved in it throughout is Kevin Solomon.
The 42-year-old Caymanian loves American football and its flag derivative, and whatever role and position there is in the sport he has done it and has anecdotes to back it up.
Solomon has been playing in the men’s league since 1998. However, from 1993-97 he also played intramural flag football at the University of Central Florida where he earned a degree in accounting. He also competed in the Orlando City League.
“I really learned to play American football growing up in Lower Valley with the other kids in the neighborhood,” he said. “When I returned from university it was Badir Awe, one of the guys from the neighborhood, that invited me to come out and play.”
A player and coach for the Maples Knights, Solomon totally switches off from his independent director’s job in hedge funds every Saturday afternoon at the Ed Bush stadium in West Bay.
Competing and making plays on the field each week gives him the most satisfaction.
A fierce competitor, Solomon seems to defy gravity when stretching for a ball. Although he is only 5 feet 9 inches, he revels in challenging rivals like 6-foot 5-inch Deandre Simpson of the Maples Dolphins.
“In my mind I am really hoping that the quarterback throws the ball in my direction just so I can get in on the play,” Solomon said. “There is an even bigger rush when you break up the play or intercept that ball on defense or score a touchdown on offense.”
As a player, he tries to inspire the youngsters. “It’s almost like a challenge that if I can do it in my 40s, then they should be able to do even better in their 20s.”
Coaching, for Solomon, “is great, and there are few things more rewarding than seeing a young player achieve an objective for the first time or gain a sense of confidence playing the sport and knowing you helped them get there.”
He picks Adrian “Cook Rice” Rowe and Brian “Johnny Bravo” Bodden in the Knights side as the most promising youngsters for their ability to pull down long passes for touchdowns this season.
“The field is also an arena for redemption, and we saw Seware ’Chrome 2.0’ Kangulu reboot his game and make several sizzling plays during the year after a lackluster 2014,” said Solomon.
“It also has its challenges at times to stay motivated because not all players have the same level of love and dedication to the sport and that is usually evidenced in their turnout to practices and games.”
Solomon also admires teammates like Chester Hurlston, Boris Brady, Windell “Win Diesel” Scott, Tariq Myles and Joseph Tatum as exemplary players “who make it worthwhile because win or lose, you know these guys are going to be there at your side in the trenches.”
Duties as a flag referee can be stressful, but Solomon absorbs the criticism as part of the rough and tumble of the job. “Being an official is fairly straightforward if you know the rules and understand the game, it ultimately should be about allowing the players to make the plays on the field to win games. As a referee I hate negating a big play on a technicality.”
Solomon feels that the Cayman Islands Flag Football Association needs to implement a hard cap on the number of players per team to 22 for the men’s league, which will allow additional teams to be formed.
There are currently only five teams. Besides the Dolphins and Knights, it’s the Kensington Hellcats, BK Panthers and Islands Heritage Predators.
Solomon also feels there needs to be better refereeing on a weekly basis. “We need more mature men and women who love American football to come out, learn the rules and get involved solely as referees. In the league here, it is particularly difficult for referees to not engage or be influenced by the sidelines.
“Most people that referee are either players themselves or people that want to be a part of the game, that is just not their role.”
An avid Denver Broncos fan and great admirer of their quarterback Peyton Manning, he marvels at the resilience of the 39-year-old legend and his indomitable competitive spirit. “Few people recognize the importance of preparation and repetition in being able to perform at such a high level at his age.”
Solomon enjoys many recreational sports, particularly beach volleyball and snowboarding. “As for sports that I follow, my lovely wife Jessica can tell you, when the remote is in my hand, I will watch any.”
He hopes to one day coach a team that wins the local men’s league and then take them overseas and triumph in a tournament. “Clearly, we need to focus on improving and winning the men’s league here first.”
His sporting background started at high school, when he competed in the men’s basketball league. He was on the national team at 15.
He competed in the CARIFTA Games in high jump at 16 and played indoor volleyball at the national level for many years, representing Cayman at the world championship qualifiers and at several NatWest Island Games.
To take the Cayman flag scene forward, Solomon is impressed with the input of a number of players.
He singles out Dave Nielsen, “who is 52 and can still mix it up with the young guys, Chester Hurlston who is a gifted athlete and tremendously hard worker on the field, and Boris Brady, who brings a great attitude to every practice and game.”
He added that these players have been around the sport for years and do “a great job of encouraging the younger players and being positive role models.”
Solomon added, “Sean Pitterson is one coach that comes to mind as he also seeks to encourage new players to come out each year. It’s not easy to recruit and maintain talented players for a developing team.”
Solomon acknowledges it has been a challenging season for the Knights as they managed to draw one game to avoid losing every single match.
“Despite this, we were competitive in almost every game but just couldn’t close the games out.
“This year we added many young players – Adrian Rowe, Brian Bodden, Theo Edman, Vito Welcome, Dino Hydes, Gino Hydes and Nino Dilbert – [who were] all given an opportunity to really play – and not just ride the bench – in the men’s league for the first time.”
He said that they all learned a lot and will be “the building blocks for the team going forward.”
Much of Solomon’s time was also spent coaching Richard Campbell at quarterback. “It is a tough position in this league, especially with so many gifted athletes on defenses.”
Few people realize the difficulty of being quarterback, Solomon said. “Richard showed marked improvement in his last few games and should be poised for a breakout next year.
“Therefore, I expect to win several games next year with the distinct possibility of competing in the playoffs.”
Solomon feels that Cayman should have better sporting facilities and would love to see American football have a stadium of its own.
“We have phenomenal athletes here in the Cayman Islands, however many will never see that potential met due to a lack of access to decent training and facilities.”
For flag football, he would like to see a weekend tournament introduced during the slow season with sponsorship from a hotel and Cayman Airways. “Discounted stays in the Cayman Islands would be a huge draw and also boost occupancy.”
Beach volleyball is another great sport that could benefit from improving its exposure, he feels. “Cayman is a relatively small community, therefore any sport that we choose to host we really need to sell the benefit of intimate crowds as a great experience for players and fans alike.”
As the Knights did not make it to this weekend’s
finals, Solomon now looks forward to playing coed flag with the team Child Please, and defending their unbeaten record that stretches over two seasons and playoffs.
“A special thanks to Maples and Calder as flag sponsor. It is the sponsors that provide the real opportunity for teams to be formed and play each year, giving young people an opportunity to participate in a rewarding activity.”
He has seen many funny things in sport, but the one that sticks out happened a few weeks ago: A flag team lined up and simulated the snap, players ran their routes and other players defended as normal – before they all realized that there was no ball.