Denham Springs High boys soccer co-coach Erick England has been associated with the program for several years. He remembers the early days when the Yellow Jackets were struggling to be competitive.

“If you owned your own shin guards, you were on the team,” England, who shares the coaching duties with Chris Thorne, said with a chuckle.

Interest in the sport has picked up to the point that the Yellow Jackets now conduct tryouts before the season, and most of the players who earn a roster spot have select playing experience and consider soccer their primary sport.

As a result, Denham Springs is an emerging power on the local and state levels.

The ninth-year program reached the quarterfinals of the Division I playoffs last season, becoming the first Livingston Parish team to reach that stage of the postseason.

A year earlier, the Yellow Jackets made the playoffs for the first time in school history.

Ten seniors, including top scorers Cam Hilliard and Cade Murry and defensive stalwart Craig Hodges, lead a team that entered 2015-16 knowing their days of surprising traditional heavyweights were a thing of the past.

“I definitely think we have a target on our back for the teams we play this year,” Hodges said. “I don’t think we’ll have an easy game from any of them.”

So far, the Yellow Jackets appear up to the challenge.

They entered the holidays with a 10-4-3 mark and were ranked fourth in the Division I state coaches’ poll.

Hodges said the strengths of the Yellow Jackets are their speed on offense and, because they have so much experience playing together, team chemistry.

Hilliard and Murry have combined for 133 goals over the past three seasons. Hilliard has 11 goals this year to go along with eight assists. Murry has 14 goals and two assists.

Hodges anchors a defense that has pitched seven shutouts.

“There is definitely a sense of urgency,” Hodges said of the big senior class. “This is our last year, so we have to finish with a bang.”

Denham has won back-to-back district championships but this year must deal with the likes of Catholic High and Baton Rouge High in a newly configured district. Five of the six teams in the district were part of the Division I playoff field last season.

But as interest around the program grows, England said the best of Denham soccer could still be yet to come.

“We’re thinking — and hoping — it’s going to be a continual process going forward, and it was just the start of it a couple of years ago,” England said. “That’s our goal. We work every day to get to it. You can’t compete statewide consistently with freshmen and sophomores on the field. Our plan to build our program is to put juniors and seniors on the field every year and continue with that.”

All-District 4-5A football

Denham Springs defensive lineman Caleb Roddy was named the District 4-5A Defensive co-MVP, leading a contingent of 10 players from Livingston Parish on the All-District 4-5A first team.

Roddy, an LSU commitment, was joined on the first team by three Denham Springs teammates: running back Tyre Golmond, offensive tackle Kyle Hyde and defensive back Nick Berthelot.

From Live Oak, running back Will Higginbotham and offensive guard Travis Simmons made the first team, as well as defensive lineman Michael Crowson, linebacker Brock Williamson and defensive back Cade Guillory.

Walker was represented on the first team by Kyle Nevels as both a linebacker and a punter.

Roddy shared the district’s top defensive honor with Scotlandville’s Reggie Cleveland. Zachary quarterback Lindsey Scott repeated as the district’s Offensive MVP.

Walker girls win four

Walker High went 4-0 in the girls basketball tournament it hosted last week, picking up wins over Lafayette Christian, South Plaquemines, St. Amant and Port Allen during the three-day event. All four wins were by double digits.

In a 43-28 victory over Lafayette Christian on the tournament’s opening day, senior Keeona Brown finished with 20 points, including eight points in the fourth quarter to help the Wildcats break open a close game.

The tournament was played under a round-robin format.

Walker (10-6) had lost three games in a row, and five of its last seven, entering the tournament.

Scott Hotard covers sports for The Livingston-Tangipahoa Advocate. He can be contacted at shotard44@gmail.com or livingston@theadvocate.com.