When it comes to making life-altering decisions at a young age, then coming out thankful on the other end, Parkway’s Nick So’oto doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone.
Charming and effusive when speaking to adults, the senior defensive tackle will celebrate Thanksgiving this week with the usual suspects, ham and turkey, along with some Polynesian food in honor of his heritage – and some Oreo cookies.
More on his Oreo fetish later.
With the late Junior Seau, a 10-time All-Pro as an uncle, and current NFL free-agent Vic So’oto as a cousin, few could argue that the younger So’oto comes from athletic genes.
“I miss Junior a lot. He and my dad grew up in California together and they were close,” So’oto said. “He’s had a great impact on my life.”
At 6-foot-2 ½ and 285 pounds, playing on a Panther team that’s a perennial state title contender, one would thank So’oto would be a lock to play at the next level, like the Brandon Harrises, Kameron Elophs and Artayvious Lynns before him. But a decision he and his family made three years ago has stymied his recruiting at the next level, in large part because there’s little film for recruiters to use in their evaluations.
Meanwhile, the massive So’oto will test his mettle Friday night at 7 p.m. in Preston Crownover Stadium against one of the top quarterbacks in the state in Landry-Walker’s 6-5, 230-pound Keytaon Thompson, a Mississippi State commit. He’ll do it without the game experience that his size would seem to indicate.
The senior has just 1.5 seasons of varsity football under his belt.
He began his education in the south Bossier system of Sun City Elementary and Elm Grove Middle School, when his parents Tau and Patty So’oto, moved to north Louisiana through the military. But Tau had been reared in private Catholic schools in California and wanted a Christian education for his son. So, Nick was enrolled in Evangel Christian Academy despite the family living in the Golden Meadows subdivision.
Sitting out his freshman season per LHSAA transfer rules, So’oto practiced and studied, but didn’t get on the field in a game.
“Going from Elm Grove to Evangel – that transfer was very hard for me – especially going from middle school to high school football,” he said. “Evangel just wasn’t right for me. I have no hard feelings toward Evangel. There are some awesome people over there. I still have some good friends at the school – Tanner Ash and Ethan Harvey.”
Following his freshman season on Broadacres Road, So’oto elected to return to his roots, which meant sitting out another season. He didn’t become eligible for coach David Feaster’s club until the sixth game of his junior campaign last fall. Finally, he got on the field and hasn’t left since, providing some much-needed bulk for defensive coordinator Neil May’s line crew.
“The thing that really stands out the most to me is Nick’s Samoan culture,” May said. “He told me one time that ‘Samoan people are very serious about equality and unity. If they are involved in any team or group of people and anybody is treated differently or made out to be superior, then they want no part of it.’
“I told him on defense we don’t want superstars and heroes that go outside of what the scheme is trying to accomplish. He said ‘that sounds like what I am looking for,’ and the rest is History.”
The Bible Belt
So’oto has been building a resume, although it isn’t easy when you play in the interior defensive line on a team that scores in the stratosphere. Defensive guys on teams like that tend to get overshadowed.
The youngest sibling of two previous Parkway graduates, So’oto attended the Baylor defensive line camp during the summer and was named the MVP. Tau So’oto said his son being back at Parkway has been a blessing in disguise.
“It’s not where you go, it’s the people God puts in your life,” Tau So’oto said. “I guess the grass always looks greener on the other side, but coach Feaster is involved in the FCA and talks about The Word. We’re in the Bible Belt now. That’s what I love about the South.”
Dancing the dance
The So’otos are proud of their Samoan roots and Nick has infused some of that Polynesian intensity into the Panthers. Prior to each game, Parkway is led in the haka, a war dance involving stopping feet and rhythmic body slapping to incite warriors for battle, by So’oto.
“The first time I saw it was when my cousin Vic was playing in New Orleans against Tulane,” So’oto said. “It gets your body ready for war, so I brought it to Parkway because we’re all together – one brotherhood. Coach Feaster, coach May, all the coaches here stress family and I’ve become part of one here.”
There may not be a kid in the world who doesn’t drool at the thought of nabbing a handful of NABISCO® Oreo cookies, “milk’s favorite cookie,” but Nick So’oto took his love of the “wonderfilled” taste treat to another level during his younger days.
“Ohhhhhh, that’s my weakness,” he admitted. “I’m a big, Samoan kid. My mom let me go in the pantry and get five every other day when I was about 6. I was limited to that because I could really eat a lot of them if left unchecked.”
So’oto figured out a trick, however. He’d pour himself a big glass of milk, sink five or six Oreo’s in the milk and take another five in his hand, holding them up to show his mother.
“You really couldn’t see them floating around in the middle of the milk,” he said. “I had it all thought out.”
That worked until his mother came into the kitchen to get a glass of water one day just as he was sinking cookies in his milk.
“She caught on to the trick, so after that, she’d make me drink my milk first,” Nick said chuckling. “It got to the point where she just quit buying the cookies.”
So’oto said he’ll be thankful for a lot of things on Thursday, but one of the chief ones is the decision to travel back to Parkway despite the loss of playing time.
“I’m blessed because of my teammates and I don’t know where I’d be without them,” he said. “And coach Feaster has pushed me to another level. Coach (Justin) Scoggin, coach (Bryan) Rayner, coach (Adrian) Logan, all my coaches have given me a father figure outside of home.
“I can call and talk to any of them about anything and they won’t judge me on it.”
On Monday evening, So’oto was hanging out at his home in Golden Meadows with some of his buddies, including Panther speedster Robert McKnight, when former Panther Lloyd Cole showed up.
“He was talking about how much he misses us, and that shows how much of a family we are at Parkway,” So’oto said. “Robert lives down the street from me and I know if I need him, whether 3 a.m. or 8 o’clock, he’ll be there.”
But he’s learned not to bring a bag of Oreos with him.