Arkansas kicked off its pre-Spain practices Monday.
Juniors to watch:
Zebras’ end earning stripes
Defensive end John Tate practices Thursday afternoon at Pine Bluff high School.
PINE BLUFF -- Pine Bluff has been one of the state's top programs in terms of producing quality talent.
John Tate Jr. might be the Zebras' next big recruit.
At a glance
PLAYER John Tate Jr.
SCHOOL Pine Bluff
POSITION Tight end/defensive end
WEIGHT 247 pounds
NOTEWORTHY Had 27 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks last season as a sophomore. … Named to Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s All-Arkansas Preps All-Sophomore team. … Will start at tight end this season. … Has scholarship offers from Arkansas State, Louisville and Missouri.
Tate, who plays tight end and defensive end, is part of a talented junior class at Pine Bluff that already has made a state championship appearance. The Zebras advanced to the championship game of the Class 6A state playoffs in 2013, losing 31-24 to El Dorado.
Tate, 6-4, 247 pounds, turned in a strong sophomore season with 27 tackles -- including 8 for a loss, 2 1/2 sacks and 4 knockdowns -- and was named to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's All-Arkansas Preps All-Sophomore team. He goes into the 2014 season as one of the state's top juniors to watch and as a second-team selection at defensive line on the All-Arkansas Preps team.
The Zebras will look for even more out of Tate this season after the loss of Will Gragg, one of the nation's top tight end prospects who transferred to Dumas during the offseason. Gragg had 36 receptions for 367 yards and 6 touchdowns last season.
Tate figures to get more opportunities this season after backing up Gragg at tight end last season. Tate is a strong blocker and worked more on his receiving skills during 7-on-7 competition this summer.
"We like the fact that when we get into a personnel group with him. He's a physical guy on the edge," Pine Bluff Coach Bobby Bolding said. "He's a threat to catch the ball. He's a good athlete."
Bolding also said he believes Tate still has room to grow with his frame.
"Definitely, he's going to fill out," Bolding said. "I feel like he's going to be a 275-, 280-pound man some day and be packaged well at that weight."
"I really would like to get bigger," Tate said, "but that will come."
Tate already has been offered scholarships by Arkansas State, Louisville and Mississippi. Tate's father, John Sr., played basketball at Arkansas State in 1985-1989.
#NeverYield and follow @wholehogsports on Twitter now for breaking news and score updates.
Tate said his father has been beneficial in the recruiting process and offered him a some good advice.
"He's really on me to be a better person," Tate said.
Even though he is already on the recruiting radar of several schools, Tate said his primary goal going into 2014 is winning the school's 21st state title -- and its first since 1995 -- this season.
"We're trying to finish," Tate said. "We've got good talent. We've got a great team this year. We got people who know what to do. We really want it this year."
Bolding said in June after Gragg transferred that somebody would step up and the Zebras would move forward.
The Zebras are counting on Tate to do just that.
Sports on 08/24/2014