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Photo by Gerald Castillo

Mark Soto leaves a second home in San Marcos

San Marcos Athletics
Wednesday, April 22, 2020

There were only a handful of jobs in San Antonio that Mark Soto would have taken. The Johnson Jaguars were one of the few.

Soto drove about 100 miles a day to commute to and from his job as athletic director and head football coach of the San Marcos Rattlers for eight years. He lives in San Antonio but never wanted to take a job there unless there was a place with just as much potential for growth as San Marcos.

“There are some really good families (in San Marcos),” Soto said. “The community is really good here. You could tell these were good kids, that they were being raised the right way.”

During Soto’s eight years with the Rattlers, San Marcos constructed a state-of-the-art stadium and indoor practice facility, made the jump from Class 5A to 6A and went on a three-season playoff streak that culminated with a District 14-6A title in 2017.

He led his teams to victory in some of the wildest games in the state, too. Like when the Rattlers edged out Austin Anderson 48-47 on the road on Oct. 28, 2016. Or when they made a 28-point comeback to beat Laredo United on the road, 50-49, on Sept. 18, 2018. Or when they earned a 29-point come-from-behind win against Round Rock Westwood in the first round of the playoffs on Nov. 17, 2017, beating the Warriors, 64-50.

“He was always calm during those games,” former San Marcos defensive back Demarcus Hall said. “We’d get into the locker room at halftime and he’d be like, ‘You guys know what we have to do and you know what we’re capable of. Now let’s go do it.’”

“Resiliency, I guess, was the biggest part of our teams throughout the years,” former San Marcos quarterback Prudy Calderon Jr. said. “Like, we were down at some point by a good margin and he just instilled resiliency into us, just like never like being out of the fight. And that was the biggest thing with those teams over the years.”

The resiliency came from one of the main pillars of Soto’s coaching philosophy: his teams would have respectful, hard-working citizens of society first and good football players second. Hall and Calderon agree his approach accelerated their development, both as players and people.

“We have that banner that says ‘Building Character First’ and that’s probably what he’s the biggest known for,” Calderon said. “He did so much for San Marcos to the point where he kind of broke me out of my shell. I stopped being so timid in my play and I just kind of, through the years, just built a bond with the team that we had and we just felt so comfortable with each other and our coaches that we could trust each other with whatever.”

Soto’s proud of what he was able to accomplish with his teams. Hall now plays at Navarro College. Calderon is a safety at Rice. Several other players graduated out of Soto’s program to play football at the collegiate level.

But Soto’s also proud of the other programs at San Marcos he helped support in his role as athletic director. When he first joined the Rattlers, he began attending games outside of football and encouraged his fellow coaches to do the same. They followed suit.

He enjoyed seeing the wrestling team send multiple athletes to state meet this year, the baseball team making a regional quarterfinal appearance in the 2016 playoffs and many other teams reaching the postseason in their respective sports.

“He always had an open door,” head volleyball coach Michelle Moreno said. “He was very supportive, you know, rooting for all the athletes, girls and boys and of course, was there for all of us coaches. So his support was definitely something that we knew was there and appreciated.”

It was announced on Feb. 20 that Ron Rittimann was leaving San Antonio Johnson to become the new head coach at San Antonio Alamo Heights. Johnson was always a place Soto was interested in, but never thought would become available — Rittiman was at Johnson for 12 seasons.

He had met Rittiman many times at coaching conventions around the state and twice on the field in non-district games in 2018 and ‘19. Rittiman always raved about how much support he had from the school, its students, the community. It sounded a lot like San Marcos.

Soto put his name into the hat and was hired as the new head football coach and athletic director of the Jaguars two months later on April 13. Old friends who hadn’t been able to see him coach the Rattlers texted him they were excited to go to his games in San Antonio.

“It’s funny, I didn’t realize how long I had been away from home,” Soto said. “But San Marcos will always be my home, too. It’s nice to know I’ve got two homes.”

Soto said he’s excited to put his mark on the Jaguars and build the program the same way he did with the Rattlers. He’ll miss a lot about San Marcos, but mostly “the kids.”

“Seeing them leave and join the military or become doctors or become coaches and then coming back and seeing how much they’ve grown, that’s what I’ll miss the most.”

San Marcos Record

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