On the Panthers: Pitt's Soto revamps diet to perform at defensive tackle
October 12, 2016 12:41 AM
Shakir Soto had to revamp his diet to make the switch to defensive tackle.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Two large pizzas a day wasn’t quite enough for Pitt senior Shakir Soto in his weight-gaining quest this offseason, so he added peanut butter sandwiches as a midnight snack.
The result — along with a lot of work on the field and in the weight room — has been a booming transformation from defensive end to defensive tackle.
Soto, who gained 40-plus pounds for the role change, finished Saturday’s win against Georgia Tech with a game-high 7.5 tackles, including two for loss.
“He’s been special inside, and he’s been good all year to be honest with you,” coach Pat Narduzzi said. “It was one of the great moves of the offseason. I don’t know if he knew it, but we knew it.”
Soto’s position coach expects his pupil will continue to thrive as the Panthers (4-2, 1-1 ACC) travel to Virginia (2-3, 1-0 ACC) this weekend looking for another win.
“Since I’ve had him, that’s the best performance we’ve had and we expect him to build on it this week,” said Tom Sims, Pitt’s defensive line coach.
Sims went through a position change as a college player — two in fact — moving first from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, then eventually to defensive tackle at Pitt in the late 1980s.
“For me, it was a natural progression,” Sims said. “I kind of ate my way out of every position.”
The coaching staff approached Soto after the Military Bowl last year about the possibility of becoming an interior lineman, after spending the first three years of his Pitt career at defensive end.
“He embraced it. He wants us to have success and we felt moving him down in there would give us a better opportunity,” Sims said. “He’s trying to grow with it, and learn, push himself. He’s done a good job, and I think we’re seeing improvement from him.”
Soto said his biggest concern was gaining weight while keeping his athleticism. He went from 245 pounds to 275 last spring, then hit a high of 290 this summer.
“Once I finally gained the weight, I was sick of eating,” Soto said. “I had to chill out a little bit from eating. The weight room stuff was pretty much the same stuff. I just had to eat a lot more. I made sure to take care of my body because I didn’t want to be just all fat.”
Soto has 21 tackles this season, including five for loss, with a sack. Narduzzi said Soto just jumped off the game tape after a monster performance against Georgia Tech.
“He was our defensive player of the week, without a doubt. You saw that halfway through the tape,” Narduzzi said. “He was making plays everywhere, and you know, I’m excited for him and just the little things he did. … He played with great fundamentals, some of the things we didn’t do the last time we played these guys.”
Pitt was successful taking away at least one major dimension of Georgia Tech’s triple-option — run plays by the running back through the middle.
“When you stop the dive, the only two options are the quarterback and the pitch,” Soto said. “I mean, we did a really good job with the dive. The quarterback really only had that one run. I chased him down a couple of times, but overall, once you stop the dive it makes it harder to be a triple option team.”
By late in the fourth quarter, when Pitt needed a big stop on fourth-and-1, they got it from nose tackle Tyrique Jarrett, linebacker Matt Galambos and Soto, who film revealed had a major hand in the big stop.
He practically held his breath during the review.
“I was hoping they didn’t give them [a] first down like they did earlier in the game. I told the ref, ‘You owe us one,’ ” he recalled afterward.
The first down was denied, and the Panthers went on to win, 37-34.
“We executed our technique, did things the right way, and put [ourselves] in position to make the play and willed that young man to the ground,” Sims said. “It was a big play for us.”
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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