Eric Swensen, the head coach of the Spring Hill Wrestling Club, describes being a wrestler in the following way. "(The best coaches) say there is no such thing as an off-season wrestler or an in-season wrestler. You're either a wrestler, or you're not." Nick Soto is definitely a wrestler. Coming from a lineage almost publicly defined by the sport, this 16-year-old has been exposed to life on the mat since he was a little boy. His father, Chris Soto, has been around the Springstead High program for nearly 25 years, helping bring along many of the state champions to come through that wrestling room. He is now an assistant on Swensen's staff.
Nick's older brother, Dustin, will be a senior this season and was a state qualifier at 103 pounds as a junior. He did all of this while Nick looked on as a freshman junior varsity wrestler.
It would have been easy for the younger Soto to give up while he dominated the JV ranks, but Nick dreamt about getting the chance to compete in major tournaments.
"I am a completely different wrestler now than I was a year ago," Nick said. "I've changed my technical approach and now I am able to control my opponent rather than just going out there and fighting him."
This summer, Nick will get his chance. Only weeks after the Springstead season wrapped up at the FHSAA State Championships, Swensen was refocusing his attention to the Spring Hill Wrestling Club and the young wrestlers who would be competing at NHSCA Freshman National Championships in Virginia Beach, Va.
One of those competitors was Nick. He kicked off his summer in style by taking second place at 125 pounds in the tournament to earn All-American honors, the second-ever Spring Hill wrestler to do so, joining two-time state champ, Schuyler Swanton.
The biggest honor Nick earned this summer may not even be a medal or trophy. Swensen gave his young grappler the greatest praise he possibly could.
"Nick is going to be filling Schuyler's role this season," Swensen said. "He's going to be counted on to anchor our lineup on the mat and be a leader off of it."
Swanton is one of three members of the Springstead team to win multiple state titles and is about to join the Virginia Tech team in the fall. Those are some big wrestling shoes to fill.
Nick is keeping his outlook more grounded, so he doesn't let the pressure affect him. Instead of thinking about the big titles in the distance, he keeps his goals short-term and close so he can build toward the larger things. His mellow demeanor also helps.
"I've never let pressure bother me," Nick said. "I keep (state titles) in the back of my mind and work toward the smaller goals that are right in front of me."
There may be no better place for Nick to hone his skills than the Spring Hill Wrestling Club. He is surrounded by every level of success and one of the area's most successful coaches (Swensen), and in the end, it may be that difference that makes him one of the young stars to look out for in the next few years.
"We instill in our guys to stay in the moment," Swensen said. "They can't get caught up in past success or tournaments way down the road. The biggest matches for them are the ones they compete in here and now."
Submit story ideas, feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.