Shakir Soto makes the most of every opportunity.
He always has, and always will.
If the GAR grad could have done his four-year stint at Pittsburgh over, Soto would have started out as a defensive tackle instead of moving inside during spring ball his junior year. But he made the most of his one year as a three-technique.
Soto finished his senior campaign with 46 tackles, including 10 for a loss, 4.5 sacks and a pass breakup. It was his best season with the Panthers, registering career-highs in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks.
Now it’s time to focus on his future — in the NFL.
“You can’t change the past,” Soto said. “That’s the good thing about my situation; the scouts know that this is my first year ever playing defensive tackle and they know the things I did and they were like, ‘Obviously you can see this kid played one year of D-tackle, he put up these numbers.’
“I’m just grinding until March.”
While prospects from Clemson and Alabama were still finishing their careers last week, Soto had already gotten a jump-start on the pre-draft process.
It started at the College Gridiron Showcase in Bedford, TX.
The five-day event, starting on Jan. 7, included meetings and interviews with scouts, seminars on the ins and outs of being a professional athlete, practices and capped off with a scrimmage on the final day.
Soto didn’t waste much time in Bedford, interviewing with scouts from a handful NFL teams — including the Kansas City Chiefs, the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Oakland Raiders, the Atlanta Falcons, the New York Jets, the Denver Broncos, the Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Chargers — and landing on the showcase’s all-star team, for his performance during the scrimmage. Soto even had some scouts call his agent Cary Fabrikant after his impressive performance in the game.
“I definitely performed well during the game and turned some more heads. It was definitely something that helped me and was just a great time,” Soto said. “They were speaking very highly of me. Scouts know I only played one year of D-tackle and there’s room to grow.”
With less than a year of full-time defensive tackle experience under his belt, Soto continued to pick up tactics to help improve his game. While he admitted the coaches at the showcase aren’t there to teach you or change your game per-say, they helped Soto improve the little things.
“They helped me use my speed a lot better,” Soto said. “They coached me on my technique a little bit just to show me something different because some D-tackles hit gaps, some D-tackles play man and stuff like that. When I was at Pitt we were taught to play the block — that means get vertical, get penetration. When I was there, they were like, ‘A lot of teams’ D-tackles you get to attack on the side, they want you to hit the gaps. They want you to get vertical in the gaps.’ That was something new I tried and it worked out for me in the game.”
Building off of his momentum from the College Gridiron Showcase, Soto made his way to Atlanta on Jan. 11 to train at Chip Smith Performance Systems with other athletes preparing for the NFL Draft, including projected top-10 pick Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. Even some Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to train at the facility after their season ends, according to Soto.
Training at Chip Smith Performance Systems, Soto has had the opportunity to work with former Green Bay Packers first-round pick Vonnie Holliday.
“It’s just great to be around a whole bunch of people who just want to work, and we all just push each other,” Soto said. “No one’s selfish or anything. They all want to keep it moving.”
Working on everything from resistance and strength training to positional work, and everything in between, has been a grind for Soto, but working along NFL hopefuls keeps him focused.
“I’ve been here (training) for eight days and man, am I sore. It’s worth it, though,” Soto said on Friday. “The big thing with me is I want to be around a guy like Vonnie Holliday. He’s been through it. He’s like a mentor to us. Being able to see him every day and teaching us all his techniques and stuff like that; he’s a really cool dude. Being around him definitely helps a lot.
“Just a whole bunch of guys that are hungry and ready to work.”
Soto expects to continue training in Georgia until early March when he plans to head to Wilkes-Barre before going back to Pittsburgh for the Panthers’ pro day. Until then, he’s going to keep grinding.
“Now, the moment’s here. I just have to take it,” Soto said. “There’s a whole bunch of guys out there like me that are hungry. I just have to be hungrier and keep working.”