Vic So'oto didn't play like a man fighting for his life to make the Green Bay Packers 53-man squad. He performed like an All-Pro.
So'oto produced 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass that he returned 33 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the Packers' 20-19 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL's final preseason game Thursday at Lambeau Field.
Ironically, So'oto claims he blew the assignment on the play in which he stepped in front of a pass in the flat intended for Chiefs running back Dexter McCluster and raced for the score.
"I actually messed up on that play, and I know coach (Kevin Greene) is going to yell at me if we do go over the film," So'oto said in the locker room. "In practice, I messed up on that play a couple of times on a screen play and draw play, so I felt I messed up again. I saw McCluster go out on the edge and I knew they were going to throw to McCluster. He's their everything. I just went out there, the ball came my way and I took it and I was hoping McCluster would trip because he would catch me in the long run. I got to the end and did a Lambeau Leap."
So’oto was left breathless as he described his victorious trek into the stands.
"Exhausting," So'oto said. "The wall looks bigger up close, so I thought, 'I hope I make it.' So, I'm running, I'm running, I'm like, 'Oh, I might need to leap a little higher. I got halfway over it. Next time, I'll try spinning over it hopefully."
His odds of having the opportunity to jump into the stands again increased after his big night, though coach Mike McCarthy wouldn’t confirm whether or not he had played his way onto the final roster. Rosters must be cut to 53 by 5 p.m. Saturday.
"I'm not going to answer any questions in regard to who's on what team or so forth," McCarthy said. "We’ll cut it down just like everybody in the league, Saturday at 5 o'clock. I'll tell you, I think Vic played outstanding tonight. He stacked two excellent performances back to back. That's what you're looking for for the football team and anybody that's trying to make your football team."
McCarthy’s coy response notwithstanding, it’s a safe assumption that So’oto clinched his spot on the roster. He has 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and the interception while playing against the Colts’ and Chiefs’ starters the last two weeks. For a team feeling its way through the losses of impact starters Cullen Jenkins (free agency) and Frank Zombo (injury), So’oto looks like he’ll be an immediate contributor.
The undrafted free agent from BYU, who was listed as the third left outside linebacker on the depth chart, rotated in and out of the lineup throughout the game. His impact was felt early and often. In the game’s first series, So'oto got the Chiefs off the field when he sacked Matt Cassel on third-and-6.
On the next series, So'oto prevented the Chiefs from scoring when he stripped running back Jamaal Charles on the Packers’ 21. Pat Lee recovered.
"When I hit Charles, I hit him and his back was to me and I reached around and I felt the football and I pulled it out. That's kind of the same thing I tried last game," So'oto said of last week’s fumble, which was overturned by replay. "But the running back’s knee hit the ground before the ball came out so I kind of wanted to make this one more definitive and make a play for our team."
So'oto's first half of terror wasn't finished yet as he and fellow rookie D.J. Smith combined to sack Tyler Palko with 5:15 remaining in the half.
The next half brought the touchdown and subsequent double- and triple-team blocks.
Not bad for someone who just wanted a chance to prove he belonged.
"Means the world to me," So'oto said of the opportunity. "It's been a tough road, I can't lie. People doubted me. I actually had coaches in my school say, ‘What are you going to do now?’ right after the football season ended. It kind of hurt me and I (talked to) my wife, (she said) 'What's Plan B?' and I said 'There is no Plan B, I'm playing football.' I had a daughter in January, I was going through that whole thing where she was waking up every two hours and I was still making it to work. It's a testament to the (fight) in the guys in this room, especially in this part of the room. You don't get a lot of shots and you've got to take advantage of every rep. It's just putting your head down, keeping your legs moving and hopefully one day you get a shot."
It’s a story simliar to that of fellow outside linebacker Zombo, an undrafted free agent last season who not only made the team but recorded one of his five sacks in the Super Bowl.
"I just went out there, gave it everything I had," Zombo said. "And when you run to the ball, things happen for you, and whether he's living right, playing right, things are happening for you and things are happening for him."
At the end of game, So'oto did what he did at college by going around the stands and giving high-fives to the crowd. If this was his last game, he wanted to make sure the fans knew how much he appreciated them.
"I don't know if I'll be here come Sunday or Monday," So'oto said. "Kind of my last time here, I wanted to thank the fans for being so supportive and let me ride their bikes every day."
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