SaltWire E-Edition

Lineman ate his way onto Axemen

A football neophyte, Khalid Soliman gained 90 pounds, made starting line


Khalid Soliman didn't know anything about football two years ago. On Saturday, Sept. 16, the 20-year-old computer science student from Abu Dhabi was set to take his spot on the Acadia offensive line when

Bishop's the Axemen visited the Gaiters for homecoming weekend at the Lennoxville, Que., school.

It marked Soliman's third start in his first full season of Atlantic university football. A far cry from a fateful day two Septembers ago at Acadia's Wheelock Dining Hall.

“Two of our coaches saw Khalid and another guy in the meal hall and they were big, big lads,” recalled Axemen head coach Jeff Cummins. “We were down some bodies and they wanted to see if they'd like to play some football. That's a true story.”

The Axemen had three offensive linemen out with concussions.

But Soliman, who was born in Saudi Arabia and had lived in the United Arab Emirates since 2015 before arriving in Wolfville, “had never watched a football game.”

“I didn't know anything about the sport, the rules of the game, nothing,” Soliman said. “But I watched some plays on YouTube and I was hooked.

“The next day I went into coach Cummins' office and told him I didn't know anything about football but I know hard work and determination and I want to give it a shot.”


In high school in Abu Dhabi, Soliman was a three-sport athlete, excelling in soccer, basketball and rugby.

“My whole family is very athletic,” Soliman said. “My father was a basketball player and my older brother played semi-professional soccer in Toronto. I tried to follow in my older brother's footsteps and become a professional soccer player.”

He trimmed down to 220 pounds during his second year at Acadia and went out for a tryout with the Axemen soccer team in September 2021.

“I played 3-4 positions,”

goalkeeper, Soliman recalled. “I tried centre back, left back

and even midfield. But after the tryout I was told I was not good enough. I was pretty bummed.”


But not for long. Mere days after his disappointment on the soccer pitch came his chance encounter in the Acadia meal hall.

While his friend didn't make the cut, Soliman found himself on the practice squad during the 2021 season.

“I'm always learning,” he said. “But in the beginning, I felt like I was learning a new language. The first meeting, I didn't understand anything. I just sat there trying to pick up on what was going on. It was very difficult at the time.”

The following season, he was promoted to the active roster but suffered a broken arm three days into camp.

Soliman managed to play one game last season on Oct. 15 against the eventual conference champion St. Francis Xavier X-Men during Acadia's homecoming weekend. The Axemen lost 46-11.

“My first-ever game of football during homecoming and against St. F.X. was an amazing experience,” said Soliman, who either plays guard or tackle.

If not for the broken arm, Soliman said he could've played more games last season.


He also packed on the pounds necessary to play as an offensive lineman in this league. In the spring of 2022, Soliman said he weighed about 230 pounds. Six months later, at the end of the '22 season, he tipped the scales at 320.

“But I was so big, I lost my athleticism,” said Solimon, who put on the weight by stacking two to three plates of food during each meal.

He's currently at 290 pounds.

position “He ate his way to a on the team,” Cummins said. “The meal hall became his best friend.

“Khalid's a good sized, athletic kid who we thought could help us on the line, whether it was offence or defence. We thought, in a year or two, as long as he worked at it, he would get on the field. At no point did I think Khalid would put on the weight that he has and put himself in a position to play for us this early. I thought it would be another year. But he bought in whole-heartedly.”


Born to Egyptian parents in Riyadh, Solimon moved with his family to Canada when he was eight years old.

After four years, and once his two older brothers were settled in at university — one attended the University of Toronto, the other went to McMaster — Soliman and his parents moved back to the Middle East, settling in Abu Dhabi.

“My family is scattered all over; my parents are in Abu Dhabi, my brothers are in Toronto and I'm here in Nova Scotia,” Soliman said.

In the UAE, Soliman attended Abu Dhabi Grammar School, an international

school that offered the Nova Scotia Program, which provides its students the opportunity to graduate with a Nova Scotia high school diploma so that they can continue their studies at a postsecondary institution in the province.

During his Grade 12 year, he was accepted into Dalhousie and Acadia.

“I was coming to Nova Scotia either way,” Soliman said. “My parents knew I was going to back to Canada to

international study and they found an school that was a five-minute bus ride away that offered the Nova Scotia curriculum.

“I didn't know anything about Acadia. But most of my

attended teachers in my school had Acadia. That's how I heard about the school.”


He admits the move from an uber-rich metropolis of 1.8 million with its modern towers, shopping megacentres and hot desert climate to a small town of 4,000 was “very much a cultural shock.”

“I'm also a momma's boy and didn't do many chores,” Soliman said. “When I came here, I didn't know what to do. I had to cook and clean for myself. It forced me to mature very quickly.

“When my parents sent me off to Canada, they weren't sure how I would turn out. After living in Canada for one year, they said I became a man right away.”

Soliman returned to Abu Dhabi over the summer for the first time in a few years. He teamed with two former

members of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces for some strenuous off-season training.

“They pushed me pretty hard,” he admitted. “Running in 42 C every day is very difficult. After 100 metres I was struggling. But it was nice to be home and enjoy my mother's cooking.”

After a winless 0-8 season in 2022, the Axemen won their first game of the '23 campaign in their season opener Aug. 25 at Mount Allison. A last-second field goal by Thomas Veinot propelled Acadia to a 15-13 victory.

A hamstring injury sidelined Soliman for Acadia's home opener on Sept. 2 against St. F.X. but he was back in the trenches the following weekend when the Axemen hosted Saint Mary's on Sept. 8.

Acadia traditionally hosts a football game during its homecoming weekend, which this year falls on Oct. 14-15. But not this year. The Axemen visit SMU on Oct. 13 (which is also homecoming weekend at Saint Mary's) and Soliman said his team feels slighted.

“We're calling this season the revenge tour,” Soliman said. “People didn't think we would win a game this year, so we don't have a homecoming game this season. Everyone thinks were done but we're going to show them this year who we really are.

“We're calling ourselves,

‘the homecoming ruiners.' We play at (Saint Mary's) homecoming as well as at Bishop's. We're going to ruin all of those because we don't have one.”





SaltWire Network