As a senior at Carlsbad (Calif.) High School in 2004, Vic So’oto was recruited by UCLA head football coach Karl Dorrell.
“He chose two other guys,” So’oto said earlier this month. “I kind of poked him a little bit that he chose two other guys, but it’s come full circle.”
Dorrell, now the head coach at Colorado, didn’t choose to sign So’oto out of high school, but he elected to sign him this winter as the Buffaloes’ new defensive line coach.
“Now I get to learn from a guy that I knew a long time ago,” So’oto said. “I’m really excited.”
After spending the past two years coaching the defensive line at Southern California, So’oto is one of six new coaches on the CU staff and one of the key acquisitions for a defense that is looking to crank its game up a notch or two.
So’oto, 34, has quickly risen in the coaching profession.
After playing at BYU, where he was a first-team All-Mountain West performer, he went undrafted in 2011 but played for six different NFL teams from 2011-14.
In 2015, he went back to BYU as a coaching intern for Bronco Mendenhall. After that season, Mendenhall took the head coaching job at Virginia and brought So’oto with him as a graduate assistant. By 2017, So’oto was the Cavaliers’ defensive line coach, a position he held for three seasons.
“I had met him during his days at Virginia,” said CU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson, who was with the Philadelphia Eagles at the time. “I had a chance to visit with him and meet with him. I liked him and then just kind of tracked his career. … We knew that there was a possibility to get him (this year) and he just added even more value.”
Wilson and Dorrell were so eager to get So’oto that Wilson was willing to shift his role to coaching the Buffs’ outside linebackers. Wilson has coached defensive line for much of his 30-year career, including the past two years at CU.
So’oto will now take that role and he is eager to learn from Wilson.
“When you’re a defensive line coach, especially a young one, you want to study different coordinators, from the NFL down to college down to high school,” So’oto said. “My experience with (Wilson) in this process was I knew who he was and then we knew similar people.
“I had something similar last year with C.J. Ah You, who is now the defensive line coach at Nevada, where we could bounce ideas off of each other and I thought it was the best ever. Now to come here with someone with even more experience and is actually calling the plays I think is valuable. It’s something that I really look forward to exploring how we can make this place the best it can be.”
So’oto said he was drawn to the opportunity at CU not only because of Wilson but also the Buffs’ defensive philosophy.
“I’ve had to play between three- and four-down fronts and for a defensive lineman that makes it pretty difficult to even play and practice; what are we planning on? Are we doing more three-down or four-down?” So’oto said. “But being able to be in this system where it’s primarily four-down, where we’re getting vertical and getting to the quarterback and getting in the backfield is something that really excited me.”
In addition, So’oto said he likes the talent in the room. CU is led by seniors Terrance Lang and Janaz Jordan and juniors Na’im Rodman and Jalen Sami.
“We have some really good players here that I think can achieve whatever they want to achieve in this league,” So’oto said.
To achieve success, So’oto said he will teach a “core philosophy of being violent” on the defensive line.
“You need a defensive line that’s violent and physical,” he said. “If you have a physical, violent defensive line, then everything else can kind of take care of itself. … My experience, one playing in the NFL as an outside linebacker for six different teams and then being in the ACC and now the Pac-12 with two different teams in the Pac-12, it’s the same thing. We’re going to be built on a violent, physical nature. We’re gonna establish the violent, physical nature of football, and we’re gonna have a violent mindset. From there it gets really simple when you start knocking the guy back that’s in front of you.”