Paul Wiedlich has been involved in some form or fashion with the GAR Memorial football program for more than a decade and a half, including the last two as head coach, where he's posted an overall record of 22-4 (.846) in that span. Since the start of the 2006 season, the Grenadiers are 58-14 (.806) overall and claimed consecutive District 2 AA championships - the first two such crowns in program history.
Prior to Wiedlich assuming the head coaching post, GAR hadn't hoisted a District 2 AA championship trophy, though they'd reached the championship game on several occasions.
"He's a difference-maker," Wiedlich said. "He's a 'we' guy, not an 'I' guy, if you know what I mean. Defensively speaking, without a player like Shakir on our team, I don't know if we'd have won a district championship."
Wiedlich said Soto moved from playing offensive guard in his sophomore season to offensive tackle last season as a junior. Defensively, Soto's always manned an end position, but he's gotten used to opponents devising plans to try to make him a non-factor.
"Toward the middle and second half of our season last year, you could tell teams began game-planning for him," Wiedlich said. "He'd catch the tight end or the running back chipping him, or occasionally the offensive tackle or a pulling guard. He handled it very well. With teams committing to stop him, that opened up the lanes for other guys."
Soto committed to Pitt Saturday during an unofficial visit, becoming the Panthers' third recruit in the 2013 class.
"He knew deep down that's where he wanted to go," Wiedlich said. "He had had his heart set on Pitt since the prior staff was in place and had a lot of contact with him. He was concerned when Coach Chryst took over and initially didn't hear anything. But he took an unofficial visit out there and they rolled out the red carpet for him. He feels very comfortable there and says it's like home - like it would be a good home to be at for the next four or five years."
Though GAR runs the same defensive system as Pitt (the 4-3), Wiedlich said he doesn't believe that factor alone sold Soto on the Panthers.
"I think what it came down to was him getting close with Coach Bollinger (who recruited him) and Coach Breckterfield and the time he received from Coach Chryst during his first visit," Wiedlich said. "To have the head coach take time from his schedule to speak with him and look him in the eyes (like he did)...Shakir feels super about the opportunity to compete every day there."
During offseason workouts, Wiedlich said Soto has added approximately 15 pounds of muscle - putting him up to the 240-pound range.
"He does everything the right way," Wiedlich said. "And he takes his schoolwork just as seriously as football work. He has a tremendous work ethic and his motor's always going full speed. He's really become a student of the game - he watches extra film and understands preparations for game situations. Whether it's in the weight room or the classroom, they (Pitt) are getting a top-notch person."
And Wiedlich added those "top-notch" traits will play a big role in how Soto is remembered after he graduates from GAR Memorial High School.
"He's the most polite young man you'd want to meet - a true gentleman," Wiedlich said. "He's willing to do anything and everything for the betterment of the team. He's one of the hardest-working kids I've ever seen, and I've been around this program for quite a while."