By Alex Byington

Killeen Daily Herald

As one of the top-10 runners in the nation at his event, Hector Hernandez essentially had the pick of the litter when narrowing down his college destination of choice.

With offers ranging coast-to-coast, the Ellison 800-meter senior runner sought advice from a pair of former nationally-ranked Eagles - Texas A&M sprinters Prezel Hardy Jr. and Michael Bryan.

"I've been talking to PJ and Mike - I text and call them all the time - and actually they told me (the Aggies) were the best choice, and to just go to A&M," Hernandez said.

Hernandez listened, officially signing a letter of intent to run track at Texas A&M during a National Signing Day ceremony Wednesday in front of family and friends in the Ellison auditorium.

Becoming the first of his family to run track in college, Hernandez chose the Aggies over UCLA, Texas Tech and South Florida, among others.

"With all the visits that I took, it just felt like I was a part of A&M," Hernandez said. "Since the beginning, it felt like ... with other schools I was just another person. But with A&M, I felt like I was a part of it."

Of course, Hernandez wasn't even the lone Killeen runner the Aggies reeled in Wednesday, joined by Shoemaker senior LeKesha Jelks who signed without any pomp or circumstance.

Jelks - a three-time 400-meter regional qualifier - placed fifth at the Region II-5A meet in the 400-meter dash and 10th in the 200 meters last year as a junior. Jelks finished second in the 400 at the District 12-5A meet after a first-place finish in 2010. As a freshman, she placed third in the event at the district meet.

"I was very excited," Jelks said of signing. "I wouldn't think Texas A&M would come after me, but when they did, I was very excited and proud to be chosen one of the many that they had chosen."

The pair are just the latest in a rapidly growing collective of Killeen talent making waves in College Station, joining a quartet of sophomores in Hardy and Bryan, middle distance runner Aliese Hyde and jumper Melissa Mays, both of Harker Heights.

"It's a great opportunity to be able to run with all these different athletes from Killeen and other places that are very good," Jelks said. "I feel it's a great opportunity."

Both Bryan and Hyde were a part of Hernandez's host party during his official visit this past summer after a bronze-medal finish in the 800 at the World Youth Trials in July.

Hernandez will look to continue his medal-winning ways later this month when he competes in the prestigious Brook PR Invitational on Feb. 26 in Seattle, Wash., receiving the coveted "golden ticket" as one of the top 10 800-meters runners in the entire nation.

After finishing 1-2 to Harker Heights three-time 800 champion Kyle Thompson at the District 12-5A and Region II meets, Hernandez secured the hat trick at state, overtaking Flower Mound Marcus' Sean Canavin in the final 200 meters to win silver (1:51.35).

But with Thompson in his freshman season at the University of Texas, Hernandez is a preseason favorite to take gold this season.

Beginning this summer, the two-time defending outdoors national champion Aggies will join the Southeastern Conference and compete head-to-head with two-time indoor national champion Florida.

"I'm pretty excited too now that we're going to the SEC, excited to run against the best and do my best, which is what I do," Hernandez said.

Kehoe fulfills D-I dream at UNT

Although the ceremony was postponed until next week to accommodate several football teammates, Marcus Kehoe couldn't wait another day to make it official - he was a Division I athlete.

Privately signing and faxing a national letter of intent to pole vault at North Texas, the Lampasas senior joined the National Signing Day congregation on Wednesday.

"As a kid, you always have that goal to become a Division I athlete, and growing up I always thought that was going to be in football for me," said Kehoe, who rushed for 1,141 yards and 16 touchdowns this past season. "But I still ended up getting the chance to compete at the Division I level, and that's what it came to. That's the kind of competition I want to be apart of."

Kehoe finished with the fourth-best height (15-feet) at the 3A state track and field meet last May, a mere six inches from reaching the medal stand.

Ultimately choosing the Mean Green over UT-San Antonio, Kehoe said he was most impressed by the caliber of coaching at UNT.

"Derek Mackel jumped 13-feet in high school and went to college and jumped 18-1 - he's somebody that's got a tenacious mentality and wants to be the best," Kehoe said. "That's definitely something I want to associate with."

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