For the first official practice of fall camp, the Pine Bluff Zebras took Torii Hunter Field at Jordan Stadium. The Zebras were lively and excited, but it was business as usual from the beginning to the end of practice.
The Zebras are expected to finish in the upper echelon of the 6A East, but first they have to work to get there. Head Coach Bobby Bolding feels like his guys were prepared for the day, and it showed. Pine Bluff utilized the off season to get better, and that played hand-in-hand with their physical endurance.
"I think we're in pretty good shape conditioning wise," Bolding said. "We didn't do a whole lot of install. We're going to try to cram most of it in this week, but today we kept it to a minimum so they could go full speed. I thought carrying the stuff over from team camps and workouts we had a pretty good knowledge of what we were doing."
Coming off of a season where a lot of the guys were young and inexperienced, the Zebras are ready to take a step up. Bolding referenced the good number of returnees on defense and the depth up front on offense.
"Defensively, you can see the growth because we really got eight guys back that are potential starters," Bolding said. "Offensively, we're trying to put together an offensive line, and that's kind of a work in progress. The thing is we have seven or eight guys that can play up there, we just have to get the right five so that they're like a fist."
Returning junior running backs Kemariea Wilkins and Braylon Moody got a nice amount of carries as sophomores last season. At wide receiver, returning senior Jyrimee Thompson has shown that he's capable of making plays in the open field. One piece that will be missed in the Zebras' offensive attack is junior Michael Johnson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during the off season.
The Zebras will have have a new starting quarterback, as senior Derrick Sloan Jr. and Tyler Foots are dueling for the position. Both were back-ups in the past.
"They're still battling it out," Bolding said of Sloan Jr. and Foots.
As for the defense, there's not many worries for the Zebras. They return a core of eight, led by senior linebacker Isaiah Singleton. Although Bolding senses that the defense could be pretty good, he's not going overboard with it.
"Two linebackers back, three DBs back, and three or four defensive lineman that played a considerable amount," Bolding said. "We should have a good defense. People do so many things, and you have to defend the whole field now. Match-ups become a big part of the game. The days of shutting people out and only giving up 10 points a game is not really realistic anymore. You have to able to score points on offense, and if you can be able to hold people to under 21 you have a good shot at winning."
In the upcoming weeks, Bolding and staff will continue to prepare their guys for their season home opener against Cabot on Sept. 1.