Zebras’ defensive backs thrive on experience

Bobby Bolding has seen his fair share of big plays out of his defensive backfield during his time as a head coach.

Two of his former players are in the Arkansas high school state record book with interception returns of 98 and 100 yards. Devarious Rice of Pine Bluff will be Bolding’s third player in the record book after Rice picked off Watson Chapel quarterback Kris McCullough a yard deep in the end zone.

Rice followed his blockers, made a move on McCullough and scored on a 101-yard interception return to end the first half Friday.

“It felt good but when I got to the end zone, I felt a little tired,” Rice said. “I was thinking about kneeling, but I saw I could take it and my teammates had some good blocks for me from the start.”

Bolding was happy to see a third player of his make it into the record book.

“It takes a great athlete to take it 100 yards, and great blocking by his teammates,” he said. “He was pooped at the end. He was lucky he didn’t have to go back out there.”

Rice’s interception was one of three for the Pine Bluff (2-0) defense in its 48-12 win over Watson Chapel. His interception was the second of the game that was returned for a touchdown.

Rakeem Leverett had the first interception, and it came on Watson Chapel’s first play of the game. He returned the pick for a 23-yard touchdown to put the Zebras up 13-0 right out of the gate.

“Our offense went out there and set the tempo, and then Rakeem, first play, picks it,” Bolding said. “That set the tempo and it got the defense real excited.”

While Rice had the longer return, Leverett’s interception came because Rice was out of position.

“I was just reading my keys and the quarterback’s eyes, and I saw Rice was not on his job and I tried to help him out some because he is my buddy,” Leverett said. “I got the interception and I got the touchdown and I knew it was big.”

Leverett later added his second interception of the game early in the second quarter.

“He kind of put it up for grabs,” said Leverett of McCullough’s passes. “Anything he put up was soft and lazy, so I wanted to come up and make a statement.”

Rice and Leverett make up half of a defensive backfield that starts four seniors. Rice and Deandre Gridley are three-year starters, Leverett is a two-year starter and Lamarcus Taggart is the only first-year starter.

“It’s nice having four seniors in the secondary and they are playing really well right now,” Bolding said. “It allows us to do a lot of things, a lot of different coverages and a lot of different looks. They have been there and done that.”

The four players have been playing together for four years now, so they are all very comfortable with each other.

“We’ve been playing since the ninth grade, so we have good chemistry and we do our job,” Leverett said.

Rice said all four of them have been working hard to be a major strength of the defense this year.

“With it being our senior year, we have come together as a group and use that experience,” he said. “As long as we work every single day, then we are going to be able to transfer that over to the games on Friday.”

Those four still have their work cut out for them, though, with North Little Rock this Friday and a full conference schedule ahead.

“We’ve got some real good quarterbacks that we are going to see,” Bolding said. “We have to be disciplined because athletically they can make plays. … That’s where being a senior and multiple-year starter comes into play for them.”