Three weeks before Ruffin McNeill left Virginia to become the defensive tackles coach at Oklahoma, Vic So’oto was called over to Bronco Mendenhall’s house in Ivy.
The UVa boss wanted to not only see So’oto, but he was welcome to bring the whole clan —wife Ashley and young children Fia, Ave, Tre and Samson.
This was pressure, So’oto thought.
“I’m always scared when I bring my kids to Coach Mendenhall’s house,” So’oto said, “because everything’s in an exact place with exactness. And [So’oto’s children] run around and they smash everything.”
But shortly after arrival, Mendenhall’s three boys began to entertain the So’oto kids, knowing Dad had a business meeting to attend to.
In April, the NCAA passed a measure to allow Division I college football teams to hire a 10th assistant coach, effective January 2018. At Virginia, this was going to be So’oto’s role. The graduate assistant would be officially bumped up to full-time after the upcoming season. Or at least that was the offer Mendenhall and wife Holly presented to the So’otos.
“He was like, ‘We’ll give you time,’” So’oto said, recalling his discussion with Mendenhall, “and we were like, ‘We don’t need any time. We’re good, we’re ready to go.’”
Such eagerness was only enhanced Thursday when So’oto met with reporters a day after UVa announced he’d be the Cavaliers’ new defensive line coach, effective immediately.
Mendenhall’s first recruit when he became head coach at BYU over a decade ago is now a full-time member of his UVa staff.
“He knows the defensive line play in our system, inside and out,” Mendenhall said in a press release Wednesday. “He’s a great teacher and fits perfectly and seamlessly into this position because he was taught and mentored by Ruff this past year. Our defensive front won’t miss a beat.”
So’oto, 29, was a four-year letter-winner for Mendenhall at BYU before a brief stint in the NFL that included time with the Washington Redskins. His Wednesday hire drew praise on social media from former Cougars to former Cavalier nose guard Donte Wilkins.
“He’s going to be one of the best coaches in CFB,” Wilkins tweeted. “Proud to be coached by him.”
“I’m beyond fired up,” So’oto said, “just having the trust of someone I love and admire in Coach Mendenhall and to be with guys that I consider family. Everyone asks me how many kids I have. Now I can tell them ‘12.’ Four of my own and eight of my dudes right now that are on Grounds and four more that are coming.”
So’oto will continue pursuit of a master’s degree in sports administration while being the voice for a three-man defensive front that will play this year minus Wilkins, who was sixth on the team in tackles last season with 47.
“We have this culture within us that we’re trying to spread through to the players of winning, do things right and then playing a smash-mouth brand of football,” So’oto said. “And that’s what I want. I want to smash people in the most legal way of possible through dominant football and a dominant style of D-line play.”
writes for the (Charlottesville) Daily Progress