Now that Aaron Lagrone is a redshirt sophomore on the Arkansas-Pine Bluff football team, he gets to share a little wisdom with younger players from his hometown.
“Me and Walter (Ashley) have been hanging around a lot — and Jeremiah (Young) — because we’re backs,” said Lagrone, a Watson Chapel graduate. “By me being a veteran, I’ve got to teach them plays and teach them responsibilities.”
And while Lagrone might be second on the depth chart at running back, he enjoys the little bit of leadership he gets to take on.
“I love being a leader,” Lagrone said. “It’s kind of fun.”
Lagrone is looking to make more of his presence known in game action after a separated hip shortened his 2012 season. He’s one of 11 players from Pine Bluff on the roster, many of whom coach Monte Coleman thinks will have an impact this year.
“One of the things I’ve always stressed with the coaches is that we take care of our backyard first before we venture out to other areas,” he said Tuesday. “It hasn’t been the easiest task in the world, convincing the locals to come to us for whatever reason.”
Only three locals — Pine Bluff High alumnus Ashley and Dollarway graduates Anthony Johnson and Young — have joined the Lions this year. Johnson was released from his letter-of-intent with Division II Delta State (Miss.) to join UAPB and Young is walking on.
But the total number of locals UAPB has speaks to Coleman’s ability to land — and keep — local talent.
“All in all, we recruit Pine Bluff extremely hard,” said Coleman, a Pine Bluff native himself.
Senior free safety Davin Ryles and redshirt junior tight end/fullback C.J. Branch, both Watson Chapel alumnus, are the mainstays among the group of Pine Bluffians. Running back Jalen Dabner and free safety Jared Turner, classmates at Pine Bluff High, are coming off redshirt seasons, and sophomore receiver Sam Bass (Watson Chapel) is resuming his career after missing last year due to a transfer from Arkansas-Monticello.
Coaches have given redshirt sophomore linebacker Antonio Jenkins (Watson Chapel) some looks in the secondary. Johnson has been more active in the defensive line after he quit the team for a few days, and true freshman SanAntonio Cole (Watson Chapel) has taken some snaps at quarterback with the third team in scrimmages.
The Lions have recently lost one player from the area. Coleman said senior linebacker Desmond Washington of White Hall was dismissed from the team earlier this week for discipline problems. Washington did not play last year because he was taking care of “some personal problems,” he added.
The coach is excited to see how his newest local Lions in the backfield will contribute. In fact he said he sees “the future” in Ashley and Young, both 1,000-plus-yard rushers in each of their last two high school seasons.
“I’m talking about a bright future,” Coleman said.
Lagrone said his fellow locals, many of whom he played with or against during high school, are better players than he thought.
“Like Jeremiah, I thought he was just a power back,” Lagrone said. “He’s got a little wiggle with him. And Walter Ashley, he can stick it in up the middle. I thought he was just a shifty back.”
Coleman calls the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Young a “bruiser,” comparing his running style to that of one of UAPB’s leading rushers in 2011.
“He’s that Stephen Jones we missed last year,” Coleman said. “We didn’t have that Stephen Jones to pound it up in there. With Jeremiah Young, he’s very capable — once he learns this system to the fullest — to be that real, real big back we need.”
It could be a big year for the local Lions, who will reunite with some other locals on the Arkansas State squad when the two teams meet Aug. 31 in Jonesboro. One of the local Red Wolves, junior linebacker Kyle Coleman, is Monte’s son and Lagrone’s classmate from Watson Chapel.
For now, Lagrone is enjoying the company of his local UAPB teammates as they prepare for the opener.
“It’s just fun playing with people you know and grew up with,” he said.