Ragan signing 1

Lorena senior Ragan Forrest (in cap) signed a letter of intent to play baseball for McLennan Community College this week. The Super Centex standout hit .520 with 19 doubles in 2014.

The officials will still call offsides. If you’re not a goalkeeper and you paw at the ball, you’ll still get whistled for a handball. Nothing in the rulebook has really changed.

Nevertheless, for Class 4A soccer teams, it’s a whole new ball game.

For Central Texas 4A schools (formerly 3A) that play soccer, a new day is dawned. While UIL soccer has been around since 1983, this marks the first year that schools that size have a classification all their own. So when District 17-4A play began earlier this week, you can bet that those coaches were pretty excited.

“In the past it wasn’t just going up against schools twice your size, it was also that two of those schools (University and Waco High) were always two of the better teams in the state,” La Vega boys’ coach Paul De Leon said. “Before you ever started, you were looking at four losses. Now everyone is a lot more optimistic.”

De Leon said that when the 17-4A coaches gathered for their district meeting prior to the season, the mood was more upbeat than ever.

“We like those guys (from University and Waco High), they’re great coaches, but we’re glad they’re not there anymore,” De Leon said, laughing. “The district race is more wide-open than ever now. It should be ultra-competitive.”

Some of those teams are already making history. China Spring’s boys and Robinson’s girls were both ranked in the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches (TASCO) preseason state polls for the first time in school history, as both were ranked 10th. Coming off its first two playoff appearances in school history in 2013 and ‘14, Gatesville’s boys could be a contender for their first-ever district title. The Hornets lost to perennial 5A power University, 1-0, in nondistrict play, and started off district action right with a 3-1 win over Robinson Tuesday.

“There’s a greater margin for error now,” La Vega’s De Leon said. “Before it seemed like you were automatically competing for third or fourth right off the bat.”

Hotbed for Tulsa recruiting

With its ties to Central Texas through former Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery, Tulsa continues to recruit the area well.

Its latest addition is Midway defensive back Brenndan Johnson, who visited Tulsa last weekend. Johnson had been committed to Navy, but after the visit to Tulsa he announced on Twitter that he was changing directions.

“After much thought and prayer, I have decided to end my recruitment and further my education and career at the University of Tulsa,” Johnson wrote.

Johnson was a first-team all-district defender for the Panthers in 2014. He’ll be part of a large Midway signing class at 9 a.m. Feb. 4, a class that grew by one more this week when tight end R.J. Rangel made his pledge to Oklahoma Panhandle State.

Midway gridders on ESPN3

Fans wanting to watch Midway’s Khalil Haughton and Devontre Stricklin play football one more time will get that chance.

Haughton and Stricklin are both part of the U.S. Under-19 national team, which will play in the International Bowl Feb. 7 against Team Canada. That game, scheduled for 1 p.m. in Arlington, will be telecast on ESPN3, which is available via free subscription on most high-speed internet connections.

Haughton, a safety who is headed for Oklahoma, and Stricklin, a receiver who has made his pledge to Baylor, were both Super Centex stalwarts for the Panthers last season.

MCC inks Lorena’s Forrest

Lorena senior Ragan Forrest gets to keep playing baseball, and he didn’t even have to leave McLennan County.

Forrest signed with McLennan Community College Monday. The catcher/infielder hit .520 last year for the Leopards — including a .620 mark in district games — with four home runs and a school-record 19 doubles. Following the season, he was honored as a first-team Super Centex standout at second base.

He also plays club ball with the Waco Storm.

Cameron coach earns honor

The UIL released the 15 statewide winners of its Sponsor Excellence Award Thursday, and Cameron Yoe football coach Rick Rhoades was one of the honorees.

The Sponsor Excellence Award, in its 24th year, recognizes coaches, teachers and administrators who provide outstanding support to students in extracurricular activities.

In his 31st year of coaching, Rhoades directed the Yoemen to their third straight state football title in 2014, earning Super Centex Coach of the Year honors in the process.

Centex softball teams ranked

The UIL softball season won’t get rolling until Feb. 16, but a trio of local teams can already boast a state ranking.

The Texas Girls Coaches Association has released its first preseason poll of the year, and Crawford, Robinson and Troy dot the rankings in their respective classes.

Crawford, which won its second state title in three years in 2014 but graduated a sizeable chunk of its starters, is ranked second in Class 2A. Robinson is No. 6 in 4A, while Troy is 10th in the 2A poll.

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