Bobby Bolding’s message was poignant to the seven Pine Bluff High School seniors signing national letters of intent on Wednesday: Don’t waste this opportunity.

Bobby Bolding’s message was poignant to the seven Pine Bluff High School seniors signing national letters of intent on Wednesday: Don’t waste this opportunity.


The Zebra head coach’s speech to his group of kids gathered in the film room of the school’s multipurpose building ran in stark contrast to the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony just minutes before.


In McFadden Gymnasium, the players who helped lead the Zebras to back-to-back 6A state titles had been introduced like rock stars. All that was missing was a fog machine and light show. The seniors were announced in alphabetical order one-by-one and walked in on a "green" carpet with cheerleaders lining each side, while over the sound system statistics and honors were read.


Entering first, fittingly, was David Beasley. The dynamic all-purpose player who shined at wide receiver, defensive back and punt returner had been the first of the Class of 2016 to commit. He verbally pledged his allegiance to Louisiana Tech in April 2015 and officially signed with the Bulldogs on Wednesday.


"When I didn’t have an ACT score and my grades weren’t up to par, they still believed in me. They didn’t turn their backs on me," said Beasley, who also had offers from Arkansas State, Houston and Memphis. "When I went on my visits, they showed they loved me and cared about me as much as I cared about them. They felt like a family there, and you know momma knows best, and she kinda felt that was the place I needed to be, too."


Beasley, who will join Willie Roaf as fellow Zebras to join the Ruston-based school, said he visited Louisiana Tech three times. The Landers Award finalist also toured Memphis just weeks ago with fellow senior John Tate, who ended up signing with the Tigers.


Tate, who had verbally committed to Memphis shortly after his visit, clearly enjoyed himself on Wednesday. Upon being announced to the crowd, the defensive lineman broke out the dab, a celebratory move made popular by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, while sporting a sharp-looking white suit with blue accent. He reveled in the unique celebration, saying it’s a special thing to have so many players from the same team sign to play in college.


"I think that’s the most we’ve had in maybe five, six, seven (years), maybe ever," Tate said. "God has been working in Pine Bluff. It’s good to see my buddies are (going to be) getting their degrees and getting their football scholarships, continuing to play the sport they love.


"Even though we’re going to be going to different colleges, we’ll still have that brotherly bond together and that’s going to take us farther together."


Tate was the most highly recruited of the Zebras, having racked up over 10 Division I offers before settling on the Tigers. He was a finalist for Farm Bureau’s 7A/6A Defensive Player of the Year. Teammate Romar Reades was a finalist for the classifications’ offensive award. He’ll be heading to Division II Harding University.


Reades had split his time during his sophomore and junior seasons between running back and linebacker. Prior to this past season, Bolding announced Reades would play solely on offense in 2015. It helped land Reades his scholarship offer.


"(When I was playing) at linebacker, I wasn’t able to get as many carries as I wanted to on the offensive side of the ball," Reades said, adding that he really started hearing from Harding after about four games. "I think being on one side helped me focus on what I needed to get better at as a running back and get more looks at me as a running back in college."


Without having even played a game for the Bisons, Reades already has a friendly rival at a conference school with teammate Corey Jackson heading to Arkansas Tech. It’s an opportunity few could have foreseen the tight end having even as last season was getting underway.


"Before my senior season started, I didn’t have any type of recruitment activity going on," Jackson said. "After I put up a few numbers, after my senior season was over with, you had coaches just flooding into the fieldhouse, coming in trying to talk to me. It was great. You know, I enjoyed the whole entire process, going on the visits. I never thought I’d be given this opportunity, so I just thank God."


Jackson was one of three Zebras whose strong senior campaigns put them on the recruiting map. The other beneficiaries of standout 2015 season were kicker Justin Williams and defensive end Jaquavis Russell.


Williams became the lone Zebra, thus far at least, to sign with Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He said a big factor for him was the school resuming its nursing program, in which he plans to participate.


"(I feel) extremely blessed, knowing I can make my grandma proud," Williams said.


For Russell, the chance to further his career at Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College stemmed from a year where he burst on the scene with double-digit sacks. Russell’s impact was critical with teams early in the year focused on slowing down Tate suddenly having to try and stop him, as well.


"It was a lot of pressure," Russell said. "Hard work all the time, after practice, before practice, talking to John, getting some motivation to help me come through the hard times. I really had to step my game up, show them what I can do."


Russell will be joined at Coffeyville by one of the most highly decorated players in PBHS history.


Quarterback Ladarius Skelton received virtually every honor he could this past season. He won the Landers Award, Little Rock Touchdown Club 6A Offensive Player of the Year, earned a spot on the Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star team, and won MVP of the 6A state championship game for the second consecutive year.


Skelton finished his three-year career with 3,751 rushing yards and 47 touchdowns. He threw for 4,451 yards and 57 touchdowns. Despite those impressive offensive numbers, many schools were looking at Skelton to play defense at the next level.


"I’m very excited," Skelton said of attending Coffeyville, which has produced players such as Mike Rozier, Brandon Jacobs and Ryan Lilija. "I get to play the position I really wanted to play. All the other schools wanted me to play another position. … I’m going to do what it takes to get to a higher level."


The hope for Skelton is that two years improving his ability at Coffeyville, specifically his reading of defense, will see him be able to land a Division I scholarship after two seasons.


Skelton had previously verbally committed to Southern University. The Southwestern Athletic Conference school was going to allow him to play QB, but he said he believes in his ability to be a major college conference player.


"It’s my decision," Skelton said, adding that the decision was in no way academic-based. "I wanted to take that route, so I can go to a higher level, a better level."


Bolding, for one, agrees with his signal-caller’s decision.


"I have no doubt that’s the best decision," Bolding said. "I had somebody I respect a lot in Arkansas high school football called me last night, specifically about him, where’s he going? I told them and they said, ‘Great decision. He’s a Division I quarterback, not a Division I defensive back, and he will prove it at Coffeyville.’ I have faith that he will."


During Bolding’s brief message he gave his players about taking care of business and representing PBHS wherever they go, he mentioned a teammate of theirs who so badly wanted to be where they were, but didn’t receive any offers due solely to his size. The anecdote was meant to remind the players that they should feel blessed to be given the chance to further their careers.


Later, Bolding beamed with pride in talking about the group of young men. Only time will tell, but Bolding said he thinks each and every one of those signees made the right decision on Wednesday.


"They each chose the place that was best for them," he said. "You didn’t see them all going to one place, because they were scared to venture off. That wasn’t the case. They picked places they were comfortable with that they felt like they could be successful and get a college degree. That’s the thing I’m most proud of."