Pine Bluff junior tight end Will Gragg has caught three touchdown passes in the Zebras’ two playoff games so far this postseason.
Those touchdowns are the most evident sign of a Pine Bluff offense that has continued to get better and better as the season has gone on.
The next big step for Gragg and the Zebras is a 6A semifinal date with the Greenwood Bulldogs on Friday night, but the progress started all the way back when conference play was just beginning.
“The first part of the year, I wasn’t real pleased with Will,” said Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding. “So we sat down and looked at how we were coaching him.
“We realized he wasn’t getting the individual attention needed for his position.”
Bolding, though, had the solution.
“Tight end is a difficult position,” he said. “You have to know how to run block like a lineman and also run the routes.
“We’ve been splitting him out wide as well, which leads to an even bigger learning curve.
“So we decided to change it up a bit. We didn’t have anybody coaching the tight ends, and I didn’t coach a position, so I started coaching the tight ends.”
According to Gragg, though, it was just one of many steps the Zebras have taken to improve their offense. After some early season struggles, Gragg took it upon himself to get in some extra work with sophomore quarterback Ladarius Skelton.
“It was about Week 4, around the same time Coach Bolding started coaching me,” Gragg said, “I called (Skelton) and told him to meet me up here around 3 o’clock.
“We just came up here and ran through the route tree a couple of times.”
Something Gragg said to Skelton that day probably had a much greater impact than those extra reps.
“I just told him, ‘You have confidence in us and we have confidence in you,’” Gragg said recalling the conversation. “I think that helped tremendously.”
The next step was for the Zebras’ running game to take off. With the three-headed monster made up of senior Trevor Hunt, junior Kentorious White and sophomore Romar Reades, Pine Bluff had the skill and depth necessary at the running back position.
The question was whether or not Gragg and the rest of the offense could successfully block for the trio.
“We are a run off-tackle football team,” Gragg said. “You give them a butt to run off of and they’ll run 60 yards.
“With Trevor, K.T. and Romar running, all you have to do is just give them a seam and they are gone.”
The next big thing for the Pine Bluff offense was integrating junior wide receiver Tyran Simmons into the offense.
“Simmons has helped Will tremendously,” Bolding said. “His speed has backed safeties up.
“Whether it’s thrown to him or not, it’s allowed things to open up underneath.”
And that has allowed Gragg to create mismatches in the middle of the field against linebackers and smaller safeties. In turn, Gragg’s increased production has led to a better overall passing attack.
“We are getting more out of our passing game,” Bolding said. “We aren’t throwing it as much, but we are completing a higher percentage and for more yards.”
Bolding has seen a lot of growth out of Gragg, but he would still like to see more.
“His blocking has vastly improved,” he said. “He’s always been able to catch the ball. That’s never been a problem.
“He’s gotten better at finding where’s the hole at in coverage, but now he’s got to learn the windows and how to work those windows.”
Next year Gragg will enter his senior season and Bolding expects big things out of him.
“I want to see his legs get stronger, so he can play with his knees bent more,” Bolding said. “I want to help prepare him for college football.
“Because if I can get him playing like a college football player, he’ll dominate in high school.
“I want him to play quick (when he gets to college).”
Gragg believes he has the work ethic to make that a reality.
“I want to play with my legs bent a little bit more like Coach Bolding said,” Gragg said. “I’m just going to bust my tail in the offseason.
“If I do that, I’ll be prepared for college.”
“He wants to be great,” he said. “He wants to be a dadgum good tight end. …
“The sky’s the limit for him.”