McALLEN — During his middle school days, Edinburg Vela’s AJ Sotelo began to see high school athletes signing to play college sports.

That’s when Sotelo made it a personal goal to work hard and put himself in their shoes one day.

He accomplished that goal Friday, as Sotelo signed a national letter of intent to continue his baseball and academic career at Incarnate Word in San Antonio. Sotelo thanked his friends and teammates for having his back, coaches for helping shape him into the athlete he is today and his family for sacrificing to give him an opportunity to succeed.

“It’s been a hell of a ride. It’s been fun most of all, but out of it I made some great relationships with some great coaches that have shaped me into the athlete I am today,” Sotelo said.

Throughout his high school career, Sotelo was a stud on both the diamond and gridiron. Most importantly, however, he was an all-star teammate and person on-and-off the field, according to those closest to him.

Edinburg Vela football head coach John Campbell credited Sotelo’s character and intangibles for allowing him to excel as a student-athlete.

“The longer you do this, it’s not so much the winning games, those little moments are fun, but really what the rewarding part is watching kids go off and realize their dreams. It’s even more exciting following that particularly when it’s a young man who represents all other things that we know in the education profession that ultimately are going to give him an opportunity to be successful,” Campbell said.

Edinburg Vela’s AJ Sotelo (left center) celebrates with family and coaches after signing a national letter of intent to continue his baseball career at Incarnate Word on Friday at Cavazos Sports Institute in McAllen.

A four-year letterman in baseball, Sotelo was part of two district title-winning teams and made trips to Round 4 of the playoffs as a freshman and Round 3 during his sophomore and senior seasons.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic cutting his junior season short, Sotelo established himself as one of the top pitchers in South Texas. He followed that up his senior year with another stellar start, but a tear to his Ulnar Collateral Ligament ended his final high school season prematurely.

Sotelo didn’t hang his head, however. He continued to be a leader in the dugout as the SaberCats advanced to Round 3 of the playoffs.

Sotelo said overcoming those obstacles has prepared him for any curveballs life throws his way.

“I’ve just learned to never stop going and never give up and just always see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m glad I’ve had to face these kinds of things because they’ve shaped me into the athlete I am today and the man I am today,” Sotelo said.

He finished his high school baseball career with a 1.71 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 32.2 innings pitched.

On the football field, Sotelo threw for 6,440 yards and scored 77 total touchdowns during his three years as a starter at quarterback for the SaberCats. He also led Edinburg Vela to two district championships and five playoff victories.

Now, he’ll be heading to the “Alamo City” to play Division I baseball for the Incarnate Word Cardinals, a program which competes in the Southland Conference. Sotelo brings with him a “bulldog mentality” on the mound, a place he feels at home.

“I’m just ready to get up there and make a positive impact on the club,” he said.

Sotelo plans to study pre-physical therapy at Incarnate Word and hopes to eventually obtain a master’s degree.