VIC SO'OTO AND WHY HE IS A PACKER Jerry Gilbert 9/3/11
Outside linebacker Vic So'oto has been one of the great stories of the preseason in Green Bay. Signed as a rookie free agent in the hectic days following the settlement of the NFL collective bargaining agreement, So'oto arrived as a player with little chance to make the regular season roster in Green Bay. Yet, he not only made the roster, he made such an impression that he is likely to be a contributor in his first season.
On paper So'oto 6-3 263 has the size to play outside linebacker in the 3-4. Like many who now play the position, he was a defensive end in College. However, So'oto was not drafted because he was not an exceptional defensive end at that level. He received very little coverage from the major college draft publications and websites and did not play in post- season all-star games, which is often a prerequisite to being drafted. . He was not generally identified as a top prospect.
That was not always the case. Coming out of high school in San Diego, Vic So'oto was recruited by a score of big name schools including USC, Oregon, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Michigan, Florida State and Duke. I mention that last school, because Duke, with above average academic standards, recruits only smart guys. At Carlsbad High So'oto played both linebacker and tight end and was all conference on offense and all state as a linebacker.
He chose Brigham Young University, which has a good football tradition, but is not in the top tier of programs. The coaches there, in 2005, put him at tight end, but he was injured in the second game and awarded a red shirt season. Returning to active status in 2007, So'oto was behind an all conference tight end, Dennis Pitta, and did not see much action, as he recorded 12 receptions for 124 yards and one touchdown. He caused himself another set back that season by being involved in a water balloon and property damage incident over Spring Beak, that landed him in criminal court resulting in community service and restitution.
As the 2008 season began, So'oto, at his request, had been switched to linebacker, and he started two games with three solo tackles, a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble, but he suffered a season ending leg injury. At that point, So'oto was 6-3 247. He was given another red shirt season. While going through rehabilitation, he added weight and returned for the 2009 season as a defensive end and gradually bulked up to 265. He was a reserve defensive end in 2009.
As a sixth year senior in 2010, So'oto began to excel. He led his team in sacks and hurries and led the conference in tackles for loss. He was first-team all conference. Though not invited to all-star games or the combine, So'oto showed off at his pro-day with 35 reps of 225 pounds and a reported unofficial clocking of a 4.5 forty.
You may have read the story about So'oto working out after the draft with several Packers in San Diego. In that group were Brad Jones, Brandon Chillar and Jarret Bush.
So'oto learned a little about the Green Bay defense and felt comfortable with the Packer players. He later reported, that while considering free agent offers from Miami Arizona and Green Bay, his wife Ashley argued that his connection with Green Bay players was a good reason to sign with the Super Bowl Champs. With a smile on his face, So'oto told
Green Bay reporters, "Happy wife, happy life". She wanted him to be Packer.
Knowing his story, it should not be a great surprise that Vic So'oto adapted quickly to outside linebacker in the Packer 3-4 defense. He had learned three different positions in college and his linebacker experience undoubtedly helped. Moreover, he was judged by his college coaches to be an excellent blocker as tight end. That is a valuable skill on special teams, and he played on special teams at BYU. Finally, his smash mouth style of play is exactly what outside linebacker coach Kevin Greene wants to see.
It is his production in practice and the preseason that vaulted him not only to the final 53, but, almost certainly, onto the game day roster. He had a good game against the Colts and a monster effort mostly against the first team of the Kansas City Chiefs in which he recorded two sacks, a forced fumble and a pick six-pass interception that won the game.
So'oto is a smart guy who takes coaching. He has already learned several positions and is learning how to be a linebacker in Green Bay. He is a top athlete, who was prevented by injury and circumstance from demonstrating that in college. As a married man with a daughter and a year or more older that many rookies, he should have the maturity to learn from his mistakes and get better. He already has shown that maturity. After the Chiefs game, he admitted that his interception resulted from a missed assignment. He was not supposed to be in a position to catch that ball.
He has also been through the adversity of injury and bad decisions and the inability to be a starter. This is more valuable experience for a young pro. Vic So'oto reminds us of Clay Matthews, who also was college special teamer who blossomed in his last season as a pass rushing defensive end. So'oto is also an excellent athlete with a similar story. The issue for him is whether he will be able to play linebacker at a high level in the regular season. He also needs to learn how to play without serious injuries. Right now, it seems wise not to bet against him.