BOYS SOCCER: Eagles go step further with coach, 21

Published 5:50 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2018

This time last year, Rafael Reyes was completing his associate’s degree at Lamar State College Port Arthur when he watched his alma mater Bob Hope take on Jasper in a 4A boys soccer bi-district match.

“[The players had] been telling me they were looking for a coach because my brother was a senior here last year,” Reyes, 21, said. “They were short on soccer coaches.”

He then talked with Bob Hope athletic director and principal Rick Frey about a vacancy that came up after John Morgan left for Brenham. Now, Reyes is pursuing a civil engineering degree at Lamar University and serving as an instructional aide at Bob Hope … all while guiding the Eagles on their greatest postseason run in any sport.

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His youth is serving the Eagles well.

“He always tries his best to learn new things for us,” senior center back Rodrigo Castaneda said. “He cares about us and is always trying to push us. We’re always trying to push each other.”

Tuesday evening, Bob Hope (11-6-1) got a strong push from Mexia in the 4A area round at Brenham, matching goal for goal in the first half and coming from 4-3 down to score three straight and eventually winning 6-5.

Imanol Salazar, a third-string goaltender, saved the game — and the season — for the Eagles. He stopped a shot on a fast break with 40 seconds to go.

Salazar had quite the role to play other than just stopping the Blackcats’ shots.

“I have to talk to [the defenders] and move them,” he said. “I wanted to win that game.”

Mexia may have scored five times, but it was still a remarkable outing for a freshman who took over at the start of district play when the original starter broke his leg and the first backup broke his finger.

“The first game, I was kind of nervous,” Salazar said. “I had never played a real game until then. I just practiced and practiced. I don’t get nervous anymore.”

As if the Eagles hadn’t faced enough adversity, junior center back Luis Preciado played right after suffering an ankle injury during warm-ups.

“Some of the guys tried to stretch it, but it was popping out,” Preciado said.

Reyes asked around if anyone had a brace Preciado could wear. No one did.

Preciado played anyway.

“It was for the team,” the junior said. “I couldn’t miss it.”

Juan Hernandez scored two goals to lead the Eagles. Cristian Figueroa, Gerardo Figueroa, Fernando Parra and Carlos De La Rosa also scored.

Now, the Eagles — who are going to the Texas Christian Athletic League after this season — are one win away from a spot in the 4A Region III tournament next week at A&M Consolidated High School in College Station. The District 20-4A runners-up will take on 18-4A champion Huffman Hargrave at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Thomas Center in Beaumont.

The winner will play either Madisonville or Brazosport.

“It’s real special, for one, being a senior,” Castaneda said. “All my teammates are my family. It’s the best thing I’ve had going here in school.”

To be 21, Reyes is cashing in big on his first coaching opportunity.

“[The players] see I care for the sport,” he said. “I’m constantly looking at players, how to use information and how they work. I can relate them to a professional soccer player and how the movements they do are very similar.”


I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews


About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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