As the old saying goes, the 2013 Pine Bluff High School football team will live by the sword and die by the sword.
Youth is the Zebras’ metaphorical sword, and it was finally put on display as the team kicked off fall practice on Monday.
“I was filling out something, maybe for Hooten’s (Arkansas Football magazine), and I put down our biggest weakness is we’re young and our biggest strength is we’re young,” head coach Bobby Bolding said.
Pine Bluff’s sophomore class is one of the most highly touted classes in recent memory. In junior high, the class went undefeated the past two seasons. El Dorado coach Scott Reed was quoted in Hooten’s Arkansas Football magazine as saying Jack Robey Junior High’s past two freshman teams “are as good as any I’ve ever seen.”
So, it comes as no surprise that Bolding was happy to see his sophomores take the field Monday.
“It was great,” Bolding said of seeing them out on the field. “That sophomore class is special.
“I couldn’t even really tell a difference between them (and the older players). I’m the kind of coach that I don’t care if you’re a sophomore, a senior or even a freshman, if you are good enough, you are going to play.”
However, with only two returning starters, Bolding’s hands are pretty much tied.
Sophomores are going to have to play and play well, if the team is going to repeat last year’s success. Namely, winning the 7A/6A-South conference crown and making it back to the 6A state championship game.
The teams returning players know that, too.
“Those young guys, now they are going to have to step up,” junior tight end Will Gragg said. “They just got to keep doing what they doing.”
Senior running back Trevor Hunt agrees.
“We’ve got some young pups, as we call them,” Hunt said. “They’ve got to play. No way to get around it.”
While Monday was the first fall practice for all of the sophomores, some of them did participate in spring practices and most, if not all, participated in the summer conditioning and weight-lifting programs.
“We had a few with us,” Hunt said of spring practice. “They got a few snaps.”
It might have been just the first day, but Hunt was impressed with what he saw out of the young players on Monday.
“They did better than I thought they would,” he said.
As for practice in general, Bolding was mostly pleased with the effort he saw from his players.
“I thought we set a good tempo,” he said. “Considering all the stuff you do during the summer, the first day of practice can be a little anticlimactic.”
Bolding spoke to his team before they took the field and hoped to provide a spark.
“I try to set the stage for the intensity,” Bolding said. “(The assistant coaches) keep that going.”
His players received the message.
“We was in the locker room before going out to the field,” Gragg said. “Coach Bolding came in and had the intensity turned up from the spring.
“He wanted us all to know you have to turn it up a notch.”
But, as to be expected, the players started stronger than they finished.
“There was a little dragging at the end,” Bolding said.
With its first game a little more than a month away, expect Pine Bluff practices to be a grind right up until it takes on Fort Smith Northside on Sept. 6.
“We’re going to get after it pretty good until that week,” Bolding said.