Minutes after wrapping up the Beeville QB-WR Camp last week, Eric Soza walked to the front office of A.C. Jones High School to officially take possession of his keys to the building and his soon-to-be classroom.
As the 28-year-old walked into that classroom, it finally hit him.
He was back home.
“I went up to my classroom and it was kind of surreal,” the 2009 A.C. Jones alumnus said. “Walking through those halls, and then walking into the classroom; it wasn’t a classroom where I’m going to be sitting at one of those desks, I’m going to actually be sitting at the big desk.
“It was kind of humbling in a sense because there’s a lot of good memories here.
“That’s the third time I’ve walked the halls, and that’s the first time that it kind of hit me.
“... I had four years at this high school. It’s special. It means a lot to me and it means a lot to Audrey.”
The former Trojan quarterback returns to Beeville as the offensive coordinator on his father’s football coaching staff.
The salutatorian of the Class of 2009 – his now-wife of five years, Audrey, was the valedictorian that year, something he says she regularly reminds him about – will teach math at A.C. Jones and coach football and track and field.
“Having the opportunity to affect the young men and women of this community the way that the teachers I look up to; it’s special, it’s really cool,” he said about teaching in Beeville. “I don’t take it for granted. I don’t take it lightly. I want to be one of those teachers who people think about.”
Soza spent the past three seasons working under his father, Chris, at Medina Valley after spending two seasons as an assistant at the University of Houston.
When the Beeville job opened earlier this year, the rumblings of a triumphant return ran rampant throughout South Texas.
“Whenever he first brought it up, it was excitement,” Eric said about his father entertaining the idea of a return to Beeville, where he went 37-24 over five seasons, including a 34-17 mark during Eric’s four years in the program.
“... All the pieces kind of fell where they were supposed to, so it’s been very gratifying. I’m just super excited to be back in the community that did so much for me growing up.”
The Beeville ISD Board of Trustees made the hiring of Chris Soza official on April 30.
Eric was in attendance at that meeting, which drew a crowd numbering in the hundreds.
Eric’s decision whether to join his father in Beeville had already been decided.
“He’s toward the end of his career, so I just wanted him to be happy. I was going to be with him with whatever he wanted to do,” he said. “... It was something we prayed about and God kind of pointed us in the direction.
“The rest I guess is history. Hopefully now we can make the kind of impact that we need to.”
Since then, the former UTSA signal caller has been stopped a number of time by members of the Beeville community who are seeking to welcome back their former QB.
“(I’ve been stopped) quite a few times and that’s always special,” Eric said. “It’s cool because it’s always great to go somewhere and feel the appreciation, feel the love from the community.
“... Everybody who has come up, they’ve been super supportive and super excited.”
With the excitement comes sky-high expectations, something Eric said he welcomes with open arms.
“If it’s not to be the very best in the state, then what are we doing?” he said. “... Obviously, it’s got to be small steps; win that first district game, win that second district game, go undefeated in district, win a district championship, win one playoff game.”
His philosophy on how to take those small steps comes from one of his former bosses, current Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman.
“My favorite thing was from coach Herman whenever I worked with him, ‘Just every single day, go 1-0,’” said Eric, who worked under Herman for a year at Houston before going to Medina Valley with his father the next year.
“Win the day, win that game, and at the end of this week, if we go 1-0, then we’re going to be fine. Then we go to the next week.”
Eric doesn’t just welcome those expectations.
He embraces them.
“We want to be the best, in all aspects, whether it’s football, track, baseball, softball, wrestling, basketball. Whatever it is, we want to be the best,” he said. “... The expectations should be high. ... It should be, ‘Let’s win that district championship.’
“I want to surpass what I was able to do in high school; go four rounds, go five rounds, go six rounds deep in the playoffs.
“That’s something we’re going to challenge our kids to do.”
That competitiveness was ingrained in him by his father.
“He’s my role model. He’s my hero. I look up to him,” Eric said of Chris. “Anything I have, whether it’s personal life or professional life, I ask him and I respect his opinion.
“He’s one of the best coaches and one of the best men I know.”
Topping Eric’s list of most influential coaches is perhaps one of the best compliments any coach could receive, and that’s exactly where he put his father.
“I think he’s the top one. He’s the reason why I wanted to be a coach. He’s the reason why I want to be an (athletic director),” he said about Chris.
“No disrespect to coach Herman, coach (Tony) Levine, coach (Travis) Bush, coach (Larry) Coker, all those guys have a special place in my heart, but I think Thanksgiving,” Eric joked, “would be real awkward if I don’t put dad at the top of the list.”
And the father and son duo both said they love working together.
“It’s a good working relationship,” Eric said. “He trusts me enough to give me the offense. In his 25 years as a head coach, he’s only done that with me.
“He trusts me. He knows that I’m a hard worker and that I’m going to try to do what’s best for our kids and our program.”
“I think it’s been easy. I feel comfortable,” said Chris. “I’ve turned the offense over to him. Why? Because I know he knows exactly what I want. ... It’s like we’re thinking the same way.
“It’s amazing to see how he’s evolved. I can kind of see myself through him back then when I was young like him. It’s been a blessing.”
There’s no separating the personal from the professional, Eric said.
“It’s hard to compartmentalize. Even when I was playing here, he said, ‘Don’t you dare call me Coach. I’m your dad, you call me dad.’
It was kind of a running joke through the program, my junior and senior year, everyone would call him dad.
“It was the love, that family atmosphere.”