Shlomo Bass is 6 feet 6 and 285 pounds with wavy brown hair, perfect white teeth and and a fearless, friendly personality that offers hints of the journey he’s traveled from birth in Jerusalem to coming to live in West Hollywood as a 6-year-old with his father.
He’s never lacking in confidence.
“I think I’m one of the best linemen in California,” he said.
He didn’t start playing football until his freshman season at Fairfax High. Now 17 and a junior, Bass’ ascent was verified this past year when via Twitter he received a private DM from a person asking about his grades, how is his recruiting going and telling him that he’s looking good.
“It seemed like a college coach,” Bass said.
He told his high school coach, Juan Solorio, about the school contacting him.
“Do you know this college?” Bass asked.
“My coach said, ‘Hold on, that’s a high school.’ I went, ‘What?’”
Yes, when a private high school is trying to recruit you from Fairfax, you know you’ve arrived. Except there’s much to learn and more to do before Bass can truly prove he’s an elite lineman.
His size and toughness have given him a head start, and one coach calls him “The Jewish Nightmare.”
When he last returned to Israel to visit his mother more than a year ago, his size was provoking questions.
“Everybody is asking if I’m a football player because I’m big and tall and kind of chunky,” he said. “They always look at me because everyone is short in Israel.”
Solorio became aware of Bass when he was a substitute P.E. teacher and Bass was in sixth grade. Bass remembers Solorio saying, “Damn, you’re a big boy.”
They lost contact until Solorio spotted Bass walking around the Fairfax neighborhood.
“Is that really you?” Solorio said.
He invited Bass to try out for the Fairfax football team when he was finished with middle school.
“I was insanely nervous,” Bass said. “I felt like I’ve never done this before and I was going against some really tough competitors.”
He started from scratch, learning basics of the game and how to use its equipment. Now he watches games on television and continues to progress as a blocker.
“You have to realize where the defense wants to go,” he said. “I always look where their eyes are. Always set up strong. Usually their first step tells you where they want to go. Then I take them and it usually works out.”
Said Solorio: “He’s self-driven. He’s self-motivated. He cares about his craft. He’s very aggressive. He tries to put everybody on the ground every opportunity he can.”
Since last March, when school closed and sports facilities were shut down at Fairfax because of COVID-19, Bass has been lifting weights in a small storage room in his grandparents’ apartment building. There are dents in the stucco ceiling from Bass hitting his head walking under a part that’s only 6 feet high. He does his squats with weights donated by a gym his father knew.
On a warm October afternoon after completing his online classes, Bass had his headphones on listening to rap music while showing off his strength lifting 320 pounds in his makeshift gym. He had a quarantine beard, black face mask and was wearing a black tank top while sweat covered his thick arms.
“I have one goal in my mind,” he said. “That’s to get my family over here. It’s either going to be NFL or I’m going to get a college degree. Whatever to give them a better life. I’m going to do it.”
His mother remains in Israel with three brothers ages 13, 7 and 2. His grandmother told him a story of escaping the Holocaust by being smuggled out on a train from Belgium. His grandfather caught COVID-19 but survived, so he knows to take the illness seriously, which is why he wears a mask.
Last week, he and his father, Jeff, made the decision to move to Mission Viejo High. There had been uncertainty and little communication from the Los Angeles Unified School District about whether there would be a football season this spring or next fall until an announcement this week that there would be a season. Solorio said he understood the move.
“If I was in his place, I’d probably do the same,” Solorio said. “I care about the kid. If we would have had something, he would have stayed.”
How far Bass can go will be up to him. He already has the size, passion and commitment. Now it’s a matter of strength and technique.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN TO WATCH THIS SEASON
Mason Murphy, JSerra, 6-6, 296, Sr. USC signee has agility
Earnest Greene, St. John Bosco, 6-5, 330, Jr. Big, strong, relentless.
BJ Tolo, Mater Dei, 6-2, 265, So. Does everything right
Jonathan Tejada, Venice, 6-3, 270, Sr. Three-year starter benches 475 pounds
Maximus Gibbs, St. John Bosco, 6-6, 360, Sr. USC signee is massive
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.