Oft-traveled So'oto looking for landing spot with Steelers
On a field of 90 players, it's quite difficult to get noticed.
It's especially challenging when you have been signed or released 13 times in a span of 16 months. Just ask first-year Steelers outside linebacker Vic So'oto.
But one thing about playing for six teams in three years, it makes one resourceful, and So'oto has been just that in the category of getting noticed.
So'oto (pronounced so-OH-toe) has exchanged roundhouse rights with a rookie offensive lineman four days into organized team activities, he hit a practice dummy so hard during a special teams drill that it sent a teammate tumbling to the ground, and he used his 6-foot-3, 263-pound frame to slap down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
“I have always been on the bubble being the 54th guy on a lot of the teams, and I am trying to make that next step,” So'oto said. “It is a tough deal out here in the NFL trying to make it. Coach (Mike) Tomlin said it best when he said this defense is a hard nut to crack.”
So'oto, who will turn 27 at the end of training camp, is hoping his body doesn't crack first.
The second cousin of former San Diego linebacker Junior Seau, So'oto has found it difficult to stay healthy dating To his college days at BYU.
So'oto had two season-ending injuries at BYU that allowed him to play a sixth year. Back injuries ultimately cost him a roster spot with Green Bay. A bruised lung courtesy of a blind-side hit while covering a punt less than a week after signing with Arizona last year resulted in another release.
“It has been terrible, but at the same time it is a blessing,” So'oto said. “To be still able to be in cleats and be able to run around here is something I cherish every day. Being cut so many times, you know exactly how coaches want you to play and what you need to offer them to make a roster. It's been kind of an up-and-down career in the NFL, but everything is looking on the up-and-up now.”
When healthy and given the opportunity, So'oto has produced.
He was the only undrafted player Green Bay kept in 2011, and for good reason.
So'oto, who played tight end at BYU before moving to defensive end for his final two years, instantly had success with the Packers despite getting moved to outside linebacker. So'oto had 13 tackles, 2 1⁄2 sacks, two forced fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown in four preseason games.
After missing the first three games his rookie year because of a back injury, So'oto played seven games and had seven tackles, a sack and three special teams tackles.
A recurring back injury slowed him down his second year and resulted in his release.
Since then, So'oto has been signed and/or released by Oakland, Green Bay, Washington, Arizona and New Orleans. The Steelers signed him to a reserve/futures contract in January after a workout.
So'oto feels that his latest stop will be his best chance to finally latch on to a team.
“In college, Green Bay and even with the Saints, there has been some sprinkled in Steelers type of defense,” So'oto said. “To be able to learn from (linebacker coach) Keith Butler, Mike Tomlin and the Godfather of the 3-4 defense, Dick LeBeau, is a huge opportunity for me and I am going to take advantage of it.”
So'oto has a legitimate chance to catch on with the Steelers.
The Steelers kept four outside linebackers last year. With Jarvis Jones, Jason Worilds and Arthur Moats locks to make the roster, that leaves So'oto in a competition with veteran Chris Carter and rookies Howard Jones and Jordan Zumwalt for the final spot.
“Just being here and being able to compete with these guys is a good opportunity with me,” So'oto said. “But don't get me wrong, I want to do whatever I can do to make this team. I am trying to swim, not sink this time.”
So'oto paused, and then added: “past performances don't dictate the future.”
He sure hopes not.