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Notebook: Central Catholic alum Justin Rice tops in NCAA category; Kudos for Soderstrom

The Modesto Bee logoThe Modesto Bee 12/23/2020 Julian A. Lopez, The Modesto Bee

Dec. 23—After transferring from Fresno State, Central Catholic alum and Arkansas State redshirt senior linebacker Justin Rice finished the 2020 NCAA Division I season leading the nation with 18.5 tackles for a loss.

Rice was named a First-Team All-Sun Belt honoree for the Red Wolves, who finished the season 4-7.

Rice, the Modesto Bee player of the year in 2014 and 2015, has entered the NCAA transfer portal, according to A-StateNation. Rice's father, Jeff, told the website that Justin will only leave Arkansas State for professional football or an "attractive" Power Five opportunity.

Turlock's Johnson named to All-Pac-12 Team: Former Turlock High defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson was named to the second-team All-Pac-12 Conference on Tuesday.

Johnson, a senior who also spent one year at Modesto Junior College before transferring to Boulder, had 17 tackles and two sacks in five games for the Buffaloes.

Johnson and Colorado face the University of Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29 at 6 p.m. on ESPN.

Turlock alum signs with Minnesota college: Former Turlock and Modesto Junior College quarterback Danny Velasquez committed to Southwest Minnesota State last week.

"The biggest thing that caught my attention is they run a simple offense similar to MJC's," Velasquez said in an interview with the Turlock Journal. "I'm really excited to get to work on that offense."

Velasquez had 24 touchdowns (15 passing, nine rushing) for the Pirates in 2019 and will join former Johansen quarterback John Romero and Patterson and MJC defensive back Kendrick Bond on the Mustangs' roster.

A's impressed by Soderstrom's versatility: Despite not having a Minor League Baseball season due to the coronavirus pandemic, Turlock's Tyler Soderstrom impressed the Athletics organization during his time at the team's alternate site during the summer.

"He was much better all-around than I thought," A's Director of Player Development Ed Sprague said in an interview with MiLB.com last week. "He's definitely beyond his years in terms of his approach at the plate hitting-wise. His catching was better than I'd seen on video. ... He improved quite a bit over the course of the summer. He's got plus power, and he's got hit-ability too. He uses the whole field. He takes pitches, he fouls them off, he sees the ball really well."

The A's drafted Soderstrom, a catcher, with the 26th pick in the 2020 MLB Draft on June 26 but Sprague said Soderstrom played first base and left field at the alternate site and is "athletic enough to play on the left side of the infield."

Soderstrom is expected to begin the MiLB season with the Arizona League Athletics (Rookie affiliate).

Oakdale junior nominated for magazine cover: After winning the 145-pound title at the 2020 CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Wrestling Masters Meet in February, Oakdale Junior Ceasar Garza turned to fans and celebrated.

A photo captured of Garza celebrating is one of seven nominated by SportsStars for a cover of their next magazine.

Voting is online and opened until 9 a.m. on Dec. 31.

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