NILES - When De'Veon Smith first stepped on the football field as a freshman for the Howland Tigers in 2009, he immediately became one of the best running backs in the state of Ohio.
Three years and a Trumbull County-best 6,750 yards and 82 touchdowns later, Smith is receiving his just rewards for one of the greatest careers ever in the area. Monday he was named the Division II Offensive Player of the Year, and later that night he received the Richard Alberini Award as Trumbull County's Player of the Year at the 38th annual Andy Pike Awards Dinner at Alberini's Restaurant.
Smith might have been the only person in attendance that was surprised he won the award.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Howland senior tailback De’Veon Smith, right, is presented the Player of the Year Award from Tribune Chronicle Sports Editor Dana Sulonen at the 38th annual Trumbull County Coaches Association banquet Monday at Alberini’s Restaurant in Niles.
"I was humbled," Smith said. "I really give a shout out to the offensive line and my teammates for helping me get here and accept this award."
Smith (5-foot-11, 218 pounds) is a battering ram with breakaway speed. The University of Michigan recruit rushed for 1,883 yards and scored 27 touchdowns for the 8-3 Tigers this season. His best year statistically was in 2011, when he rushed for 2,161 yards and scored 25 touchdowns. He had 977 yards and 10 touchdowns in his freshman season.
Smith missed most of a week two game against Warren G. Harding with a shoulder injury. The injury hampered him in later games, but he managed to put in considerable time at tailback and linebacker, where he was one of the best defenders in the county.
Tigers coach Dick Angle often had to balance Smith's time on the field to keep him rested for his offensive role. His final numbers would have been even more impressive had he concentrated solely on running back.
"People don't realize that in all the games he played in four years that there were times in the second half when he never touched the ball," Angle said. "That probably happened in three games each year. That's 12 games in four years where he played half a football game.
"He never once questioned being taken out of a game when we had a lead. That's a compliment to him as a human being that he's a team player. The rewards he gets, I'm happy for him."
There was no question which player opposing coaches had to game plan for when they faced the Tigers. Niles McKinley coach Brian Shaner found a way to limit Smith to 92 yards in one of Howland's three losses.
"A great running back," Shaner said. "One of the best to come out of the area. When you game plan for Howland he was the number one player you had to focus on. Not many teams had success against Howland during his tenure there. The whole area is going to watch him as he goes on to college, and we know he's going to represent us well and have success at the collegiate level."
The only way defenses had a chance to control Smith was to deploy gang-tackling tactics. One hat on the ball often meant six points in the other direction for the Tigers.
"He has his own style," Harding coach Steve Arnold said. "There have been some great backs to come through Trumbull County. To be the all-time leading rusher in Trumbull County is a great achievement for that young man. Very talented."
Smith is the youngest of three brothers to play for Angle. He looks at Angle as a father-like figure.
"I've known him since my older brother was at Howland, and that was like 2000 or 2002," Smith said. "He showed me what was right and wrong and what not to do. He was a big help for me."
Angle won't know what to do next season without having a Smith in the program.
"I hate to see the family go," Angle said. "We had three great players. He had an unbelievable career. I've been in the game a long time and I've been fortunate enough to have had some great running backs, but I don't recall him having a bad game on either side of the ball in four years. That's the best compliment I could give him."
Smith is proud of all his accomplishments, but he regrets not reaching one goal. His brother Lance rushed for slightly more than 400 yards in a game in 2003. De'Veon had 395 yards of total offense this season against Struthers.
"I'll never live that one down," De'Veon said.
In other business, Jason Ferguson, a 2008 graduate of Mineral Ridge High School, received the Korey Stringer Golden Helmet Award for his performance as an inside linebacker at Grove City College. Ferguson was a four-year letterman. He earned first-team All-Presidents Athletic Conference honors in his junior and senior seasons.