Now that Shakir Soto is in the NFL, he could have forgotten about Wilkes-Barre, the city that raised him.
But no. The 570 is in his blood. It’s his home.
No matter how far away his football career takes him, whether its to Pitt, the Denver Broncos or Oakland Raiders, he’ll always have Wilkes-Barre on his mind.
So when he decided in January to host a camp this summer, there was no doubt that it would be held in Wilkes-Barre.
And there was only one place he wanted to have it — Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium. Home of the GAR Grenadiers.
“I forgot what made me think of it, but I was just chilling one day, and I’m like, ‘You know what? I’m going to have a camp,’” said the GAR grad. “I’m always big into giving back and stuff like that. I put on Facebook, ‘If you are interested in me having a free’ — at first it was a free football camp, like I said — ‘a free football camp, let me know.’ And a lot of people showed interest. I’m like, ‘Alright, I might as well just do it.”
While Soto did initially want to host a football camp, he quickly transitioned it into the 570 On The Go camp it is today — focusing on “fitness awareness.”
The Raiders defensive lineman felt like he’d be leaving people out if he focused only on football and decided he’d rather have a bigger reach.
And so far it’s working. More than 100 kids — boys and girls between 5 and 18 years old — have already signed up for the free fitness camp, which will work in stations and feature different types of agility and competition challenges.
Soto has split the camp into morning and afternoon sessions, with the younger campers going in the morning and older campers going in the afternoon.
“The community is very important,” Soto said. “My objective for the camp is just to have the kids go out there work hard, teach them stuff and just teach them about life. You can make your life about whatever you want it to be. You don’t have to go and follow in other people’s footsteps trying to fit in.
“I want to teach kids that they can work out by themselves. They don’t need anybody to work out. That’s why they can come to the camp. I can teach you.”
Once Soto decided he wanted to get a camp up and running, he knew the one person he had to call. One of his old high school coaches, Brian Grohowski.
Grohowski runs the Jarad Grohowski Foundation-sponsored football camp on June 23 at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium. The free camp is in its third year and Soto will be one of the instructors at the camp, along with fellow GAR grad and NFL lineman, Mark Glowinski.
Running a camp for the first time, Soto wanted to get as much advice as he could. And since he reached out to Grohowski, he’s added Wilkes-Barre Area School District board member Denise Thomas, who’s the camp’s director, his cousin, Rafael McCoy, Denise’s sister, Lisa Thomas, and his mother, Rhonda Vieney, to his staff.
Soto’s even picked up a handful of vendors for the event, including Geisinger Health, American Association for the Prevention of Suicide, and Wyoming Valley Alcohol & Drug Services Inc., and sponsors, including the Jarad Grohowski Foundation, GAR Memorial Junior/Senior High School and Wilkes-Barre Area School District.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Soto said. “It’s just very exciting to have the support I’ve had throughout my whole life. People following my movement, wanting to help kids. Just people, a lot of good feedback on social media. A lot of people are excited for it. I’m excited for it. It’s going to be a fun day.”
Soto has always admitted he wasn’t the best kid growing up. He was even expelled three times in elementary school before finding his path. But when he got on the straight and narrow, he has made the most of it and is now playing in the National Football League.
The 24-year-old defensive lineman now hopes with his camp that he can provide that same kick in the pants he needed as a kid to some of his campers. If he can do that, then, he says, it’s all been worth it.
“A lot of people go out there and do big things and sometimes they don’t come back,” Soto said. “Ever since I left for college, I always came back, gave (kids) my time and let them know — just give them hope.
“Just know that they have control of their life. Don’t let your circumstance you’re in define you as a person or let other people define you as a person. You define yourself as a person and no excuses.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle