Behind the Jersey Number: Paul Soliai

One of the many great sights on game days is watching countless Falcons fans fill the Georgia Dome and away venues wearing the jersey of their favorite player. We thought it was worth asking each Falcons player if there is a specific purpose for selecting the jersey number that he is currently wearing, such as Falcons defensive tackle Paul Soliai.

During Sunday's Week 15 game against the Pittsburgh, Soliai sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter for a 10-yard loss. Each of the five-and-a-half total sacks in Soliai's career was earned while wearing No. 96, a jersey with significant meaning.

"It's a number I liked when I came in my rookie year," Soliai said. "I'm more honored and motivated to wear the jersey because of the name that's on my back. It allows me to carry on the legacy of my family, my Samoan culture and represent this proud organization that I play for."

Playing in the National Football League was never Soliai's dream as a child. He loved rugby and volleyball, which is one of the sports he lettered in at Nuuuli Poly-Tech High School (Pago Pago, American Samoa). It wasn't until after Soliai received some motherly advice that he considered playing football.

"My mom said she didn't think I could really get a lot from rugby and volleyball," Soliai said. "So, I went and tried out for football, and I have been playing ever since." 

The Atlanta Falcons are in the final stretch of the regular season as they face the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Georgia Dome. Fans came out to have fun before the game. Here are pictures of gameday.

Mom's wisdom paid off for Soliai, whose hard work later earned him letters in soccer, basketball and football. He continued the football plan after high school, receiving JUCO All-America honors at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College as an offensive guard. His motivation to continue making his family proud fueled further efforts that opened doors at the University of Utah.

"Utah came and worked me out and the coach gave my parents a call and said they wanted to give me a scholarship," Soliai said. "My mom said 'take it,' and I said 'all right.' "

Soliai thrived at Utah, starting 47 of 50 games in two years on campus. His journey continued into the NFL, selected in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins.

Following a productive seven-year campaign in Miami, including his 2011 Pro Bowl season, the Falcons signed the 6-foot-4, 345-pound star in 2014.

Soliai's legacy continues to grow, honoring his proud family, including 10 siblings, his wife, son and fans across the world.

"Family is really big in our culture," Soliai said. "When I put my jersey on before each game, I'm representing them, my Samoan culture and this great organization."

You can see more proof of Soliai's growing legacy by visiting www.paulsoliaifoundation.org.

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