Solomon Elimimian wasn't too far into his first Vikings practice when he heard the inevitable question that he has fielded hundreds of times since he started playing football in the ninth grade at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles.
"So," said Vikings linebackers coach Fred Pagac, "just how tall are you?"
The answer? Same as he was when he left the University of Hawaii with its career record for tackles (434). Same as he was when he was the Canadian Football League Most Outstanding Rookie in 2010. Same as he was when his team-high 98 tackles helped the British Columbia Lions win the Grey Cup last year.
"I told Mr. Pagac, 'I'm 5-foot-11 and a half. And make sure you remember that half," said Elimimian, who signed a two-year deal in January and participated in Vikings rookie minicamp last weekend.
Elimimian's body isn't close to prototypical for an NFL linebacker. But the 25-year-old's determination and mentality when it comes to obliterating opposing ballcarriers is unapologetically old-school.
"I can say I've knocked some people out before," Elimimian said. "But, you know what, that's part of the game."
Canadian sports television network TSN polled 250 CFL players last season. They were asked to name the league's hardest hitter. Elimimian was a repeat winner in a landslide.
"I played with Solly up there in 2010," Vikings receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux said. "Toronto had a running back, Cory Boyd, from South Carolina. Solly hit him one time and Cory was asleep by the time he hit the ground."
The Vikings need depth behind weak-side linebacker Erin Henderson and more speed and attitude on special teams. Elimimian has spent the past two years honing his skills as a middle linebacker in a 4-2-6 defense and a special teams leader on the CFL's bigger playing surface.
"You can't play in the CFL if you can't flat-out run," Elimimian said. "And with all the extra motioning that's allowed, it's also a thinking man's league."
Elimimian's NFL career is limited to two preseason games. Undrafted in 2009, he was signed by the Buffalo Bills in August of that year.
"Some guys got hurt and they needed a camp body," Elimimian said. "I didn't have enough time to show them anything."
Elimimian was born in Calabar, Nigeria, and moved to Los Angeles when he was young. His father is a retired English professor at Cal Poly. His mother is a social worker who helps people overcome alcohol and drug abuse. There's also a sister and four older brothers, all four of whom earned football scholarships, including Abraham, a cornerback who went to Hawaii and spent time in NFL Europe as well as stints with the Bears and Chargers.
Solomon Elimimian thought his football career might be ending in the fall of 2009.
"That probably was the hardest year of my life," Elimimian said. "No teams called. That's when you realize how much you love football."
An English major, Elimimian couldn't find a regular job either. So he worked out, got involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Crenshaw High and lived at home.
"That's humbling," Elimimian said. "Living at home with your mom. Every day, you see her coming home from work."
One day, Abraham suggested that his younger brother go to a tryout for the CFL. Solomon gave it a try, landed with BC and started out the 2010 season as a fourth-string linebacker with a balky hamstring.
"I wasn't sure I'd make the team," Elimimian said. "But by the third game, I was starting."
Elimimian's story is a good one. But standing in front of him and assuming he won't strike, one is tempted to ask, "Yeah, but how can a 225-pound linebacker make it in the NFL?"
"There are a lot of undersized linebackers that make it in the NFL," he said. "For a long time, every one of the Colts' linebackers were undersized. Gary Brackett, Cato June. Clint Session. The main thing is being physical. Just because you're undersized doesn't mean you can't be physical. Being physical is who I am."
Then Elimimian added a point of clarification.
"And actually," he said, "I'm 230 pounds."