Pine Bluff junior running back Walter Ashley will be the first to admit that he would not burn up a stop watch or blow people away by running a 40-yard dash.

Pine Bluff junior running back Walter Ashley will be the first to admit that he would not burn up a stop watch or blow people away by running a 40-yard dash.

“In the 40 or on the track, I’m really not that fast,” Ashley said.

But between the end zones, Ashley could be the fastest player against any team, which is part of why he is the Pine Bluff Commercial’s Southeast Arkansas Offensive Player of the Year.

Ashley put together a season in which he totaled 1,243 yards of offense — running for 820 yards on 123 carries, an average of 6.7 yards per carry, and catching 21 passes for 423 yards. He scored 17 total touchdowns for Pine Bluff, eight rushing, seven receiving and two on punt returns.

But in keeping with a common theme among Zebras players, Ashley was quick to give praise to his teammates when he learned of his award.

“There are a lot of good players on offense for Pine Bluff,” Ashley said of this season’s team. “When I got the ball, all I did was run. The linemen pretty much opened all the holes up for me, so all I had to was run and make one man miss.”

Ashley was quick to point out that seniors Lemmie Daniels, Jordan Humphrey and Jalen Dabner made it easy for him to break loose, especially on play-action passes.

“With Lemmie, Jordan and Jalen in the backfield, with the play-action you have no choice but to respect our run game,” Ashley said. “I’d just go out for a route and I’d see the safety run past me and I’d just look back and Jordan would put the ball on me.

Other than the Zebras’ 23-21 loss to Lake Hamilton in the semifinal round of the 6A state playoffs, this year has been hard on Ashley.

Ashley is now just more than a month removed from the death his father, Walter Ashley Jr., who was shot and killed in a shooting outside the III Gables nightclub on Nov. 13.

For the running back, the loss of his father doesn’t necessarily mean the loss of his influence, in life or on the football field.

“When I got the ball, he pretty much told me what to do before I got the ball,” Ashley said. “Like on punt returns, I’d look up at him and he’d tell me what they’re fixing to do, what they’re planning to do. So that’s pretty much what he’s still been doing.”

What will be missing is the time that Ashley said he and his father spent after games.

“When he was here, all we did after the game was went home, sat down and talked stuff to each other,” Ashley said of his father. “When he played, they won three state championships at Dollarway. That’s all we did, talk stuff about how his team would beat my team, and I’d say, ‘Naw, we aren’t going for that.’”

Going back to his father’s time at Dollarway, Ashley said there were a few similarities he noticed between himself and his father on tape.

“He used to try to break the way I ran with my shoulders,” Ashley said. “And then when I saw him on tape, he did it too. And then, he pretty much did the same juke moves I do.”

Even though neither father nor son spent too much time playing defense, Ashley did say his father covered kicks on special teams.

So what would happen if Ashley III were returning a kick against his father?

“I’d go straight at him,” Ashley said with a smile.

Ashley has already put in work to get ready for 2012. The running back said he wants to improve his shoulder strength, among other things.

“I’m going to try to get track-fast,” Ashley said. “I’m going to try to get fast so that I can just get the ball and run past everybody. And then I want to get stronger so that I can be able to take a hit.”

That sounds like a plan for Pine Bluff coach Bobby Bolding, who joked that Ashley would be unleashed against Zebras opponents next year.

“I’ve been limiting your carries in the first two years, next year it’s all you,” Bolding jokingly told his junior running back last week.

For a player coming off a season in which he racked up 2,234 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns, a faster and stronger Ashley might make those numbers seem average next season.