Arkansas-Pine Bluff football coach Monte Coleman hopes that today he’ll officially land a few more recruits than the 15 he’s rounded up for his 2013 signing class.
Whether any of them will be as big a name to locals as Walter Ashley remains to be seen.
Ashley, Pine Bluff High’s standout wingback the past three years, highlights Coleman’s sixth recruiting class at UAPB, the newest commitments of which were officially revealed Wednesday. He’s the only Southeast Arkansas athlete out of the group of 15 — including two mid-year transfers — but landing the 5-foot-9, 175-pound speedster was a big accomplishment for Coleman and his staff.
“We’re excited to have him,” Coleman said Wednesday evening. “The young man is an explosive running back, as we all know. To add him to our repertoire at running back is a big deal.”
And what a repertoire the Golden Lions have. They’re bringing back All-SWAC performer Justin Billings, consistent running threat Dennis Jenkins and key reserve John Toney all for their senior season, and they also have Watson Chapel graduate Aaron Lagrone looking to make more of an impact as he heads into his senior season.
Wednesday’s national signing day was another sign that Coleman is in place as the head coach for his sixth season. Although UAPB hasn’t officially announced a renewal of his contract now that he’s coached all five years of his original deal, he and athletic director Lonza Hardy Jr. have said both sides agree on the length of the renewal.
A lack of an announced extension hasn’t slowed down Coleman during the offseason, however. His program now boasts the only Division I signee in Southeast Arkansas this year, a young man the coach expects to fill the shoes of Billings after the 2013 season.
“I’m looking for something he brings to the table like Billings does,” Coleman said, asked how Ashley will fit into Lions’ scheme.
Ashley was one of five Arkansans who signed with the defending SWAC champion Lions on Wednesday. They also have pulled running back Jamie Smith and wide receiver Braxton Hoof from 5A state champion Camden Fairview and Little Rock Parkview safeties Caelon Harden and Tavion Garrison.
Smith totaled exactly 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing during the Cardinals’ 14-0 championship run. Like Ashley, Smith’s expected to challenge for plenty of playing time as a freshman.
“He’s got the shiftiness to be a starter,” Coleman said.
Hoof adds to an already deep wide receiving corps at UAPB. He caught for 916 yards and 13 touchdowns this past fall.
Addressing the needs on defense, particularly at linebacker, was the main objective for the Lions’ staff during the offseason, Coleman said. Five of the defensive starters this past fall were seniors, including linebacker Bill Ross, the SWAC championship game’s most outstanding defender.
UAPB only landed one LB Wednesday in Jamal Smith of Rowlett, Texas.
“We’ve got to get another Bill Ross-type to come in and fill that role,” Coleman said. “There’s a young man who hasn’t signed that scholarship yet that I made an offer to.”
NCAA rules prevent Coleman from specifying any recruits who haven’t signed letters of intent. But he said he hopes to gain four more players who are offensive and defensive linemen today.
He gained maybe the Lions’ biggest player in recent memory, 6-foot-6, 350-pounder Joshua Turnage of San Diego.
“He’s one we’ve been trying to get,” Coleman said. “We’re trying to get some other 6-6, 300-pounders. We’ll be adding some more.”