Pine Bluff football coach Bobby Bolding placed a piece of paper on the desk that read, “Don’t come back until you have your degree.”
He then had all three seniors “sign” the paper instead of signing their actual letters of intent Wednesday afternoon at the Multipurpose Complex at Pine Bluff High School.
“That’s the big thing,” Bolding said. “It gives them the opportunity to get a college degree.
“I am just really proud of them. They handled their business in the classroom, working hard on the field, and made good decisions.
“And now, they are getting an opportunity to play at the next level.”
Senior running back Walter Ashley signed with Arkansas-Pine Bluff to continue his football career and his education.
“It means a lot,” Ashley said. “Growing up around town and going to almost all of their home games.
“I just liked the environment and the support they gave me.”
Ashley was named the 7A/6A-South Conference outstanding back after rushing for 1,277 yards on 176 attempts with 13 touchdowns. He had 22 catches for 373 yards and three touchdowns.
Ashley also had 10 punt returns for 254 yards and one touchdown.
“I’m really proud of Walter, and keeping him close to home is great,” Bolding said.
Ashley was a two-time All-State player and a three-year starter. The Pine Bluff Zebras won 12 games this season before losing to Greenwood in the 6A state championship in Little Rock.
Ashley was also a finalist for the Landers Award.
“It was a lot of hard work over the summer and through the season, but it paid off,” Ashley said. “Not as much as I wanted to, but it paid off.”
Ashley was also considering Henderson State and Arkansas Tech.
Bolding said a lot of kids don’t understand the importance of academics.
“But these guys got it,” Bolding said. “And they did what they are supposed to do.
“They’ll get a chance to play and I’m very proud of them.”
UAPB won the SWAC championship after defeating Jackson State in overtime.
Gridley, Rice sign with Arkansas Tech
Pine Bluff seniors DeAndre Gridley and Devarious Rice signed with Arkansas Tech on Wednesday.
“They’ll get to play together,” Bolding said. “They are going off away from home and going to have someone to rely on when things get tough.
“Because it is going to be tough for all of them as a freshman in college.
“It is a different level. People are faster, bigger and stronger. But these two will have each other.”
Rice finished the 2012 season with 11 receptions for 193 yards and two touchdowns. He also had two block punts and 60 tackles. Rice had five interceptions and a defensive touchdown.
“It really means a lot because I will be getting a degree and get to play college football,” Rice said.
Rice, an All-State player and a two-time All-Conference player, said he chose ATU because of the sense of community.
“The people, the fan base and the great facility,” Rice said. “They are a family. And that is something I always wanted because I have that here.
“That was kind of a big thing.”
Rice will major in physical education because he loves sports.
“Coaching is always something I wanted to do,” Rice said.
Rice said playing for Pine Bluff this season has been amazing.
“We got put out in the semifinals my sophomore and junior year,” Rice said. “So, we were real hungry to do well this year.
“We had a lot of accomplishments.”
Gridley, a cornerback for Pine Bluff, will join Rice at Tech.
“It felt like home,” Gridley said about Tech. “I really bonded with the coaches and a few of the players.
“It was just like another home for me.”
Gridley said he is ‘very excited’ about his time at Tech.
“I am truly blessed, and I thank the Lord to have the chance to play football,” Gridley said. “Because not everybody gets a chance to do that.”
Gridley said he will major in either physical education or chemical engineering.
“I like a little bit of both,” Gridley said. “Sports are my passion and I want to be around sports.
“But engineering is a lot of money to take care of my family.”
Gridley was also considering Missouri Southern State and Harding. He finished with 40 tackles and two interceptions for Pine Bluff in the fall.
“It was a wonderful season even though that ended in a loss,” Gridley said. “But I wouldn’t change it for anything.
“Just a great bunch.”
The Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys finished 2012 with a 5-6 overall record and a 3-5 record in the Great American Conference.