The warm summer breeze carries the sprinkler’s watery mist and causes it to descend like ancient ghosts across now empty bleachers. There is a haunting tranquility and scenic peace on the athletic field at high-noon.
Another Texas summer is fading. The stranglehold of hot weather is starting to loosen its suffocating grip, giving way to somewhat cooler temperatures. Autumn is descending on Falls City, bringing with it a new school year and another much anticipated football season, along with the hometown pride that always accompanies it. For many in Falls City, high school football and devotion to the home team is almost like a religion- almost like something sacred.
The very last practice of the summer finds the Falls City varsity football team in a weight room that smells of stale sweat and is crowded with strength-building equipment made of iron and steel. The weight room maintains an old-fashioned, no-nonsense feel - nothing fancy, nothing too modern. Beads of sweat begin to trickle down the faces of athletes as they execute their various weight-lifting repetitions, and the smell of sweat mixed with iron intensifies.
Amongst the athletes in the room is senior Cameron Soto, the varsity quarterback. Soto was also the starting varsity quarterback of the 2010 state champion football team. As only then a young sophomore, Soto was key in leading his team to the football state crown, giving Falls City High its first and only state football title.
In his last year of high school, Soto is preparing for victory once again. For Soto, it is his last shot at high school gridiron glory, a last dash and chase for the champion’s crown just one more time.
Cameron Soto, 18, has lived in Falls City his entire life. His mother, Christine, has lived her entire life in Falls City as well. His father, Chris, is originally from Stockdale, but moved to Falls City when he and Christine got married 25 years ago.
“I couldn’t ask for better parents,” said Soto. “They really have been nothing but supportive of everything I do, not just athletics. Through good times and bad, the one thing I can always rely on is support from my family.”
Small-town Texas is in Soto’s blood, a big part of his family’s heritage and legacy. Like many small Texas towns, a passion and love for football is the staple of the community. Soto began playing football in the 7th grade and developed a commitment and work-ethic that blended with his youthful energy.
“From the beginning as a kid, football is all I have been exposed to. My father and brother both loved and played the sport, so I feel I had to prove myself and carry out the tradition to play,” recalled Soto. “I just loved it as soon as I first touched that football. I would go out in my yard and throw the football at trees all day and try to accurately hit them.”
Soto relates how growing up in Falls City is synonymous with growing up with football. The hometown heroes the high school football team produced became the icons and examples Soto wanted to emulate as a boy.
“Ever since I was little, I feel that the only thing my friends and I could ever think about doing was playing football for the Falls City Beavers. Just watching the guys older than us - the B.J. Sixto’s or the Joey Wiatrek’s - we idolized those guys, and from the playground to now, all we have ever done is play football. Representing the Beavers is all we wanted to do, and I think that’s what makes Falls City unique. Even now when we go to the elementary playground, that’s all I see the kids do - play football. From kinder to 6th grade all the kids are playing football.”
The years race quickly by. The boyhood years quickly give way to the threshold of manhood, and to the short window of time that is one’s four year high school experience. For Soto, it is all about the team and not the individual; it is about the unity and bond that comes from striving together in a common purpose. It is about the journey, rather than stats of winning or losing.
“I can honestly say I love my teammates, every single one of them, past and present. Though we may argue and have differences during practice and on the field, we all know it’s to achieve one common goal - to win. Like they say, “without conflict, there is no growth”. But my favorite memories with them aren’t the championships or the wins, it’s the practice. It is the time no one else sees - the grind - that I will always remember. From two-a-days in the morning before the sun is up, to the long afternoon practices until dark. That’s the time where we bonded the most and that’s the time where games are won. I would go to battle with these guys 10 out of 10 times, no questions asked.”
Coach Steve Marbach is the new head football coach for the Beavers and has worked this summer assessing and honing his players during the team’s summer training camp. Coach Marbach’s experience and leadership has already impacted the team and fits right in with Falls City’s football culture, according to Soto.
“I’m 100 percent bought in to what he is trying to teach us,” remarks Soto of his new coach. “He is always calm and cool. I know when it comes down to the bullets flying, he’ll be there for us and call all the right plays. He’s going to be a great leader for us for sure. We had a really good summer training camp and he really brought us together as a team by the stuff he put us through.”
Coach Marbach says he sees in Soto the qualities that make the ideal athlete, qualities that naturally make a great player a great leader, one that sets high standards and ideals.
“The quarterback is supposed to be a leadership position,” said Coach Marbach. “It doesn’t always work out that way, but in Cameron’s case, he is definitely the go-to leader on the team. He was the starter on the 2010 state championship team as a sophomore and you can tell that his leadership skills had to be fantastic then, and they are really, really good now. He is extremely intelligent and coachable.”
So the final chapter looms in the life of a young man’s high school football experience. The sun begins to descend on the quiet stadium that awaits the deafening roar of the hometown crowd. Soon enough, two opposing teams will again clash and lock in primal competition on that field of youthful dreams.
“Whether life or sport, I always try to maintain focus and determination for my desired goal,” Soto concludes. “Once you taste greatness, all you want to do is taste it again.”