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Ernie Soto leaps from interhall to varsity football

| Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ernie Soto is no stranger to being on big-name, nationally ranked football teams.

He attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. During his four years at St. Thomas Aquinas, his team went undefeated three times and won a state championship and two conference and regional titles. During his senior year, the Raiders were ranked No. 1 in the country.

But when Soto graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas in 2011 with a 4.8 GPA, it wasn’t Notre Dame’s legendary football program that made him want to attend the University.

“I’ve always been a Catholic boy,” Soto said. “I’ve gone to St. Gregory for middle school and St. Thomas for high school, so it was kind of another step for me. It’s also far from south Florida, so it was a new place for me to go to.”

Ernie SotoEmily McConville
Ernie Soto
During his freshman year in fall 2011, Soto played interhall football for Keenan, a team he said also has a winning tradition when it comes to football.

“Being a part of that Keenan team was a lot of fun,” Soto said. “I think Keenan is one of the best dorms to play football for. The year I was on the team they were contenders, and the year after that and the year after that they’ve been contenders for the championship, so it was really cool to be a part of that team. They also have pride to it, and that’s the sort of thing you want to be around, especially when it comes to stuff like sports.”

It was during his freshman year when Soto realized he wanted something more. So he called his former high school coach, George Smith, from St. Thomas Aquinas.

“I talked to him and told him I want something more than just an academic part in Notre Dame, and he told me he would call someone, and that call opened the door to how I could show the Notre Dame coaches my film,” Soto said. “So having a connection like that really helped out a lot.”

Soto said he knew that being a walk-on wouldn’t be easy.

“I heard stories of how guys had to wake up at five o’clock in the morning and come in when it’s super cold outside and run drills, and there were hundreds of guys doing it, and it was kind of a crapshoot who gets a spot, so I kind of got lucky,” he said.

Soto said his most memorable moment during his time on the football team was the 2012 game against Stanford, which Notre Dame won in overtime. But he also said being on the Notre Dame campus during summer practices has been one of his favorite memories.

“When you’re with all your teammates here in the summer, it’s a cool experience,” Soto said. “Being here and just going about your day, working out and then hanging around with your teammates during a nice summer day, it’s pretty memorable.”

Soto said he credits current Irish defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder and former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and the culture they created during their tenures as having the biggest impact on him during his time with the team.

“Being able to play football for them has been absolutely incredible,” Soto said. “They go about their day being a man about every way you can possibly be, and it makes you want to try to achieve to be that professional. They have that determination that rubs off on you, and they try to shove it down your throat.

“You can’t be a good football team without a good culture and a strong foundation, and that’s what they build every single day, even if it’s something like a simple meeting for special teams or something like that.”

Soto said they also helped push him to be a better form of himself.

“It’s not just about being the best kid on the field; it’s about being the best kid in the classroom,” he said. “An interesting point they made to me was it’s not just even that, it’s being the best brother you could be, being the best boyfriend you can be, anything you can possibly be you always have to be on your toes and you always want to do it better than you did the day before. Because it ultimately comes down to either you’re going to get better or you’re going to get worse, and if you go about your day doing that, and trusting the other 10 guys around you, you’ll be fine.”

Soto is enrolled in the College of Engineering as a chemical engineering major. He is currently applying to medical school.

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