PROVO — BYU's Vic So'oto is playing a new position — outside linebacker — this spring. But even more importantly, said coach Bronco Mendenhall, So'oto is sporting a new attitude.

"It's almost as if he has been reborn," Mendenhall said.

Following the 2007 season, the 6-foot-3, 247-pound junior, who caught 12 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown last year as a tight end, approached Mendenhall about a position change.

"He's passionate about how he can help the team. He's matured. He came to me and said, 'I want to be whereever I can help the team,'" Mendenhall explained. "That's a huge statement and one I really love to hear from any of our players.

"Vic has matured, and he's been through a lot of things here at BYU. This is the first time since he very first arrived on campus that I've seen a bounce in his step and a light in his eyes where he's really looking forward to the season. That's been fun."

So'oto is attempting to fill a void at outside linebacker, where the Cougars lost team captain and first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection Bryan Kehl. Returning starter David Nixon is taking Kehl's old spot, and So'oto is vying to take over at Nixon's position.

So far, so good for So'oto.

"It's going well. I've always had a defensive mentality," he said. "There's a hole. You can't replace a Bryan Kehl, but I'll try my best. I'm just out here trying to get better. There are big shoes to fill, but I've got big feet."

It helps that Kehl, who is still in Provo as he awaits the NFL Draft in April, has become a mentor to So'oto, helping teach him the defensive scheme.

Not that playing linebacker is entirely new for So'oto. At Carlsbad High in San Diego, he was a first-team selection at that position in 2005. According to Mendenhall, So'oto has made an impact already.

"Vic had a really nice first day for his first full day at outside linebacker," Mendenhall said on Monday, after the Cougars concluded their first day of spring drills. "He's going to figure in, whether he's a starter or a backup. That remains to be seen. No question, he's in a spot where he can help us."

So'oto has endured some rough times during his time in Provo. On Easter weekend a year ago, So'oto and linebacker Terrance Hooks were arrested in connection with a water-balloon throwing and broken-down doors incident at an Orem apartment complex.

Both So'oto and Hooks performed community service and made restitution for damage. Hooks was suspended for the season-opener against Arizona, but So'oto was not. It was determined that So'oto's involvement in the apartment confrontation was not at the same degree of seriousness as Hooks' involvement.

Last season, So'oto was utilized infrequently as a pass-catcher. Starting tight end Dennis Pitta became one of quarterback Max Hall's favorite targets, grabbing a team-high 54 catches for 775 yards and five touchdowns. Another tight end, Andrew George, hauled in 15 passes for 188 yards.

Now that So'oto is on the other side of the line of scrimmage, Hall said it's strange to face him in practice.

"We joke about that," Hall said. "Vic's such an athletic guy, he can play anywhere. To have him on 'D,' I think, is going to really help our team."


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com