By: John Shaffer, Assistant Director, Graduate Student Success
Photos: Jeff Huehn, UTSA Athletics
"I'm in love with UTSA."
Eric Soza, 23, needs little introduction to the UTSA community. He is best known for his athletic accomplishments for three seasons as UTSA's first starting quarterback. During his successful tenure as a leader in Roadrunner Football, Eric started 32 games, completed 574-of-966 passes for 46 touchdowns, and scored another 16 on the ground.
What many do not realize is that underneath the helmet and pads is a true scholar. Eric graduated as Salutatorian of his high school in Beeville, TX. During his undergraduate career, he earned numerous awards - including being named a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete. He was a finalist for the William V. Campbell (Academic Heisman) award, and was one of 12 finalists for the Wuerffel Tophy, an award presented to college football players recognizing community service along with exceptional academic and athletic achievement. In May 2013, Eric graduated Summa Cum Laude (3.96) with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology.
With a strong emphasis placed on education in the Soza household, it's no surprise that Eric has excelled in academics through high school and college. Both of Eric's parents are college graduates (his father also holds a master's degree) and both work in education at the K-12 level. Athletics or academics - for Eric it's no different.
"I have goals and I like to win," Eric states. "One goal was to make a speech at my high school graduation, which I was able to do as salutatorian." Always focused on the win, Eric had his eye on Valedictorian; however, he takes comfort that the person who bested him for that title was his high school sweetheart, now wife, Audrey.
Post-graduation, Eric set his sights on his next goal - his dream - to play college football. This dream would bring him to The University of Texas at San Antonio. Recruited away from Texas State University, Eric was drawn to the orange and blue of UTSA thanks to Head Coach, Larry Coker.
"The first time I met with him [Coker], he made it clear that I was important - me as a person. He treated me as a human, not just a football player. That's when I decided UTSA was where I wanted to be." There were naysayers that said moving to UTSA was a gamble, but Eric was going to win again and prove them wrong. "The difference between UTSA and other college football programs is that we are unique. We are a family and we play like it."
After his second season as quarterback, Eric had a choice to make. NCAA regulations stated that he could play for one more year but he would graduate at the end of the school year. Should he walk away from his dream or take on the challenge of one more season as quarterback? The answer was simple: graduate school at UTSA. Graduate school would enable Eric to continue playing NCAA Division I football and, at the same time, help him prepare for his professional goal of coaching college football.
Eric chose the Health and Kinesiology program in the College of Education and Human Development. "The physical education concentration in the program has a focus on sports pedagogy and coaching theories which resonates with me." His latest research interest in his program focuses on sports-related concussions and the types of treatments that play a major role in rehabilitation from when a concussion is diagnosed to when the player is concussion free.
Football or not, attending graduate school is not a decision to be made lightly, something Eric fully understands. During the fall 2013 semester, Eric went full-time with 9 credit hours of graduate coursework (three classes) in Health and Kinesiology, along with his responsibilities as team captain and starting quarterback. "Graduate School is definitely different than undergrad. The first semester was a grind, but the key was to find a balance. With good time management skills you can do anything. Thankfully, I had major support from Audrey and my family."
On September 3, 2011, Eric and his teammates made history when they ran onto the field for the first-ever UTSA football game. The sound of over 56,000 cheering fans reverberating inside their helmets. It was an emotional experience that Eric will never forget. "I made a smart decision to come to UTSA. UTSA offered me the opportunity to live out my dream of playing Division I football, earn a bachelor's degree in kinesiology, and pursue a master's degree in a discipline I am passionate about.
"There was never a question where I would go to graduate school. I'm in love with UTSA."
You've read Eric Soza's journey of an athlete and a scholar, including his decision to pursue a graduate degree at UTSA. Take an active role in planning your own journey and consider what The Graduate School at The University of Texas at San Antonio has to offer you. View our graduate programs here.