Shakir Soto was exhausted when he heard the news.
After a hard lift, the Wilkes Barre (Pa.) G.A.R. Memorial defensive end was running sprints on the school's track when he was called to the school's office. He entered the room to see his coach, Paul Wiedlich, standing with a member of the United States army. Soto didn't know what to expect, but the result left him paralyzed.
"I was still for a second," Soto said. "That nervous chill that goes through your body, not like shocking, but it was just awesome."
Soto, a Pitt commit, was one of 400 high school seniors across the nation nominated for a spot in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He's one of just 14 Pennsylvania players to be nominated.
"It just feels great," Soto said. "It tells me that hard work pays off, and I'm being rewarded for it. I've been working at it for years, and everything's coming into place. It's just awesome. To be nominated, it's just great."
While his play on the field earned him the honor, it's his life off the field that sets him apart from other players across the nation.
Wiedlich, who also coached Soto in eighth grade, has seen this kind of honor coming. He said Soto's "one of the hardest working people he's been around." Wiedlich gave Soto a path to follow to achieve his goal of a D-I scholarship, and the 2013 prospect hasn't wavered.
"He deserves everything he gets," Wiedlich said. "He was nominated for the All-American bowl, and he deserves it rightly. He's put the time in and really worked at his craft. He deserves everything he's getting as fruits of his labor."
PUTTING IN WORK
Soto knew, even in eighth grade, that he wanted to play D-1 college football. Despite being shorter, smaller and slower than other players around him, he saw the path ahead of him.
With the support of his coaches and family, he began working toward his ultimate goal. Soto started working with his coach in the weight room continuing to add mass as he went through a few growth spurts.
"I live in the weight room basically. I'm there more than I am home," said Soto, who was voted a captain as a junior, unheard of at his high school.
Soto has used that motivation and continues to play with a chip on his shoulder, going from the short, small kid to an athletic specimen. Now, he stands a 6-foot-4, 248-pound defensive end that's a terror for opposing offenses.
In G.A.R. Memorial's defensive scheme, Wiedlich said defensive end is the toughest position to play with multiple assignments and responsibilities on each play. Soto plays with discipline, understanding the fundamentals of the game on each snap.
He couples that with a non-stop motor that can dominate the opposition, and Wiedlich believes the possibilities are endless.
"I wish we were at a Quad-A school and he could only go one way," Wiedlich said. "I can just imagine how dominant he would be. With us being a small Double-A school, we don't have him on the kickoff, but everything else he's on."
Athletics can only take you so far. College football is littered with stories of unbelievably-talented players, who never could reach their full potential. That's the biggest thing that separates Soto from others. As dominant as he is on the field, he's just as powerful away from the field.
Soto has a strong academic drive. He's a consistent fixture on the school's honor roll and ranks 18th out of the 162 students in his class. He plans to major in nuclear pharmacy at Pitt.
Even away from school, Soto has the kind of compassionate personality that would make Gandhi blush.
Last summer, harsh rains flooded the Susquehanna River cascading into the Wyoming Valley. With G.A.R. Memorial located on a hill, people in the affected low-lying areas took refuge in the high school.
Soto along with a few others were among the first to pitch in for the effort. Without being told and not even asked, he was there passing out water and setting up cots for displaced families.
The 2013 prospect does the same for people close to him. This past year, Soto showed up at Wiedlich's house for a Christmas Eve party. He dressed as Santa Claus for the kids at the party and kept them entertained all night.
"He's just an out-going, easy-type kid," Wiedlich said. "He's a smart kid. He thinks things through. He's not too quick to rush the judgment on anything.
"He's a super kid, honest to God."
That's the kind of kid that Pitt got when he committed April 21st by giving defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield a card for his birthday, announcing his pledge. Looking back on the commitment, Soto is happy with his decision and is excited about the future.
"I feel great about it," Soto said. "I feel like it's the best fit for me - the coaching staff, the environment, people there. I've talked to people who are on the football team and people that are there for just an education to get both points of view. I haven't heard about a bad thing about Pitt so far. It's just awesome."
He travels to Pitt today to take part in an invite-only recruiting event where he and fellow commits Scott Orndoff, Aaron Reese, Dan Samuelson and Jaymar Parrish will help the coaching staff host targeted recruits.
Five is the most commitments Pitt's had this early in the recruiting cycle since Rival.com began, and that makes Soto excited about his future with the Panthers.
"That just shows you that we're going to make it, and we can be a great team," Soto said. "The guys I've talked to who have committed so far are just great guys."
Soto won't know if he was actually selected for the U.S. Army All-American bowl until this fall. The selection tour starts in late August as 90 seniors will be chosen throughout the fall to play in the January game.
Regardless, if he's selected or not, Pitt got an All-American in his own right.
"I'm going to keep working hard, non-stop running, non-stop motor," Soto said. "That's the way I play. I just want to be the best."
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