Now a senior defensive end, So'oto is aiming to have a strong final season.
"Well, I'm starting to learn more and it's all becoming second nature now," So'oto said. "I don't feel like a freshman now. I felt like a freshman three times over my career here at BYU because I changed positions three times, but I'm feeling good and I feel ready to play.
"You know, this is my last hurrah," So'oto continued. "This is my last stand, so to speak. I'm putting everything in and going all out every single day. I'm really hungry and I'm ready to go. I'm ready to get out there and chase down quarterbacks and it's exciting."
So'oto held back his excitement. It was as if the light finally turned on and he could see things more clearly. All the struggles, frustrations and efforts to master his position quickly have paid off.
"Our d-lineman are working hard and they're doing really good," said So'oto. "They've been coming along and I've been able to help teach them, and that's something that's been good for me because when I can teach them I learn as well. When you're teaching you have to know it first, so when some of the younger guys have questions, those were question I had when I first started playing this position. I'm able to answer them just because I know the answer now. The young guys we've got are working hard and excited. It's a lot of fun."
So'oto sees a bright future for the Cougar defensive front long after he's sacked his last quarterback. The line is young but progressing and is stacked with talent.
"Well, everyone knows about Eathyn [Manumaleuna] and he's back and he's looking so good after being away for two years," said So'oto. "He's still got a little bit of mission fat on him but Coach Mendenhall's pursuit drills will soon take care of that. Technique-wise, he's probably one of the best we have."
The last time Manumaleuna played football was on December 22, 2007 when he helped BYU beat UCLA with his fingertips. It's been more than two years since the last time Manumaleuna suited up, and now he's one of the best technique-wise?
"Yeah, he's a great player and he's a hard worker," said So'oto. "He's really good with his technique and the fact that he hasn't played in so long makes it even more amazing."
That's quite the compliment, and should be encouraging to BYU fans, especially since Manumaleuna has switched from nose guard to defensive end.
"Eathyn is a lot like Romney Fuga," So'oto said. "When Eathyn came back, he came back in pretty good shape and still had a lot of his technique. He just has to get used to playing again and is a lot like Romney was last year when he first came back from his mission. Towards the end of the year he was dominating guys. Now Romney is probably the best guy on our defense along with Andrew Rich."
Technique is something that's new to 6-foot-6-inch, 254-pound sophomore walk-on Ezekiel Ansah of Accra, Ghana. It was reported that he's one of the fastest players on the team, but he is nevertheless learning the game of football.
"Ezekiel is kind of like me the first time I played football," said So'oto with a laugh. "You just point to a guy and say, 'Go get him!' He's really, really fast and he's willing to learn and grow as a player. He's also someone that has been working really hard, and the coaches are trying to get him to put his feet in the right place and his hands in the right place because he's never done it before. He's just getting used to a helmet and stuff like that."
Thursday will be the first day the Cougars suit up in full pads, so will So'oto volunteer to help Ansah put his pads on correctly?
"Yeah, we haven't put on full pads yet," said So'oto while laughing at the thought. "I might have to show him how to put pads on. He's coming along though, but it will take some time."
The biggest obstacles Ansah currently faces deal more with issues on the field rather than in the locker room.
"Yeah, just getting down football," So'oto said. "He doesn't understand scheme or offensive lineman. I keep telling him it's like a track meet. Every time the ball is snapped you just have to get off the line of scrimmage like a sprinter in his stance. You just have to get off and go. Once he gets everything else down and gets a better understanding of the game, he could be a really good player because he's really fast."
Meanwhile, 6-foot-2-inch, 317-pound true freshman nose guard Travis Tuiloma has already raised a few eyebrows, especially when it comes to his performance in the weight room.
"Travis Tuiloma is probably one of the strongest guys on the team and he's only a true freshman," said an impressed So'oto. "During the one-on-ones he just blows by guys. He's just really strong overall and is like a rhino. He runs straight and hits guys, and everything in front of him just falls by the wayside. He's going to be really good. The only thing with him is he just needs to get conditioned and accustomed to the BYU defense where we just run, run and run all the time. Some of these new guys like Travis and Tayo [Fabuluje] just have to get used to our style of defense."
True freshman Tayo Fabuluje comes in at 317 pounds, only one pound heavier than Tuiloma. However, he stands in at 6 feet 7 inches, five inches taller than Tuiloma. Fabuluje's stature makes him an imposing sight on the Cougar defensive line.
"I call him 'Big Mike' because he looks like Michael Oher from the [Baltimore] Ravens," So'oto said. "He's another player that is strong and just pushes people around. He's going to be really good. He played in a 4-3 defense in high school, so right now he's just getting used to the two gap and getting used to getting off the ball going up against guys like Matt Reynolds. He's also learning how to run.
"That's one thing these kids just out of high school have to understand is BYU's defense is just successful from the talent. We're successful because of our effort and running and running and running. Pursuits and drills like that, man, I felt sorry for them because their group had to do it over and over again. They had to do it over like four or five times that first day. Tayo is starting to get used to it and is starting to shed some weight and is getting used to running."
Joining Tuiloma and Fabuluje as a true freshman player is 6-foot-4-inch, 261-pound Graham Rowley from the state of Hawaii. In observing Rowley, one thing is evident: he knows how to run.
"He just goes and goes and never quits and that's a good thing," said So'oto. "Obviously, all of these new guys are still learning, but Graham is doing really well. I know it's tough for him too though because he came from sea level to the mountains, but he moves well and has a motor that just goes. He's really feisty."
Rowley is more of a tenacious and mobile defensive end rather than a bruiser like Tuiloma and Fabuluje, and sophomore nose guard Jordan Richardson meanwhile would fall into the scrappy-yet-extremely-flexible category. In fact, when it comes to ability, the 6-foot-3-inch, 271-pound Richardson just might be in a class all his own.
"Well, he's from Idaho and he wrestles because that's what they do up there," said So'oto with a chuckle and a sheepish grin. "Because he wrestles he's really flexible and so it's hard for him to not go right into the splits. When an offensive lineman pushes him he goes right into the splits. I mean, full on right into the splits. It's pretty interesting at times to see someone his size do that. We try to tell him to use his lower body because he's really strong. I'm mean, he's really strong. So now it's just training that mindset to stand in and take the weight of the offensive linemen."
While defensive linemen with an ability to do the splits might not necessarily be something that Cougar coaches are looking for when it comes to stopping the run, there is one physical trait the Cougar coaches seem to be trending towards.
"If you look at any NFL defense that runs a 3-4-4 defense, the three defensive linemen are nose guards basically," So'oto said. "The d-linemen are basically for stopping the run and we're basically block-eaters so the linebackers can fly around and make tackles. I think that's kind of where the philosophy is starting to move towards. We want bigger guys that can stop the run but when asked can rush up the field, but we first want to stop the run up front. That's one of our defensive pillars. We want to hold teams to under a hundred yards rushing, so we have to find guys that can come in and do it. The guys that we've got in now from high school are guys that can initially stop the run right now."