Doubters aside, Smith a prized prospect

Ohio tailback was criticized for his team's disappointing showing—while he was shattering records

Expectations ran high for the Warren (Ohio) Howland football team this past fall and were astronomical for its star player, tailback Lance Smith.

As Howland struggled through a 4-6 season and failed to make the playoffs, coach Dick Angle said that outside criticism rounded on Smith.

"We didn't have the kind of year we thought we were going to have so obviously the critics go right to the star," Angle said.

Asked to expound on the criticism, Angle added: "It's common. We thought we were going to be a playoff team, we ended up 4-6. If he didn't have a 200-yard, three-touchdown game, then everybody thought he wasn't playing very well."

Smith (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) is's No. 44 running back prospect in the nation and is considered one of the top football players in the talent-rich state of Ohio. Smith verbally committed to the University of Wisconsin football program in August and is making his official visit to Madison this weekend.

Smith raised his profile with an exceptional junior campaign, rushing for 1,668 yards and 17 touchdowns in the regular season.

Angle insisted that Smith was even better player as a senior, and the statistics bare that out. Smith rushed for 1,845 and 19 touchdowns in 2005, both single-season school. records. He also set the school career records for rushing yards (4,008) and touchdowns (44).

Smith did not put much stock in setting the records: "I just thank God I was able to accomplish getting them but it's just football, coming out and having a little fun. I guess I was able to accomplish that having fun."

His accomplishments were overshadowed by Howland's 4-6 record.

"He surpassed what he had the year before with an inferior line," Angle said. "Our line did not come around the way it's been the last six years. We've been very dominant running the ball and we still were. It's really funny…. We rushed for over 2,000 yards… But the thing is that we didn't make plays. We had chances. We're a play-action team off of our run game and we had guys open and our quarterback's under-throwing, overthrowing, or they're dropping.

"In our scheme, when you throw it, it's going to be a big play and you better make the play. And we had athletes to make the play and we had a guy to get the ball there and we didn't do it. It wasn't Lance's fault. That's for sure. He's a great player."

After his stellar junior campaign, teams keyed on Smith defensively and Angle said that only became more pronounced when Howland's passing game struggled.

"When we couldn't spread the ball, we were really in trouble," Angle said.

Smith was aware that his play during the 2005 season had drawn criticism but he didn't let it bother him.

"By me being in the position I was in, that's going to happen," Smith said. "I can just sit back and take it, ain't nothing to it."

Smith also insisted that he deserved some blame for his team's showing.

"I did my part a little bit," he said. "I could have (done) better at all times."

On film Smith exhibits good speed, but what sets him apart is his strength through the hole and his ability to read lanes and cut back in traffic.

Smith also excelled on defense in his three seasons on Howland's varsity. He played outside linebacker as a sophomore and junior and moved to cornerback as a senior. Though he projects to tailback, Smith could also play safety or cornerback in college.

"I think (Wisconsin) is getting a double player, if for some reason he wasn't going to be the type of running back, or the type of guy you wanted at running back, he certainly could play a variety of positions defensively," Angle said. "He could play from corner to free to strong to the outside linebacker-type, open side guy. He's got that athleticism about him. He's an athlete."

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