The weights that were lifted Wednesday around Trumbull County had nothing to do with building muscle.
At Howland, three Tigers - DeVeon Smith, Brendan Cope and Ben Falfas - signed their national letters of intent, and a long process of recruiting, decision making and weighing options came to an end.
"It was like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders because of the pressure of getting it done," said Smith, who made his commitment to the University of Michigan official. "I'm happy I got it done and over with, and I'm proud I made the decision."
Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon
Howland football players Ben Falfas, left, Brendan Cope, center, and De’Veon Smith prepare to sign their National Letters of Intent. Behind them are Howland coach Dick Angle, left, and assistant coach Dominic Menendez.
Smith, a first-team All-Ohio selection in 2012, set numerous records at Howland and finished his senior season with 1,707 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. The bruising 5-foot-11 running back, whose brother, Lance, was a Wisconsin recruit in the early 2000s, said he considered going to several other Big Ten schools during the recruiting process, but his visit to Michigan put the Wolverines over the top.
"Michigan was just different," he said. "It felt like home more than any other school I visited."
Smith wasn't the only one at ease with his choice.
Cope, who also signed with a Division I school - Ohio University - said Wednesday felt like "a big deep breath." The 6-3, 185-pound senior wide receiver caught 16 passes for 368 yards and a touchdown last season for the Tigers, a run-oriented team. He played multiple positions as he was an accomplished punter, defensive back and also spent time at quarterback. He said he will likely play wide receiver for the Bobcats, who Cope chose over Iowa, Toledo and Bowling Green.
"I just love it there," he said. "I actually have an aunt who's mile away from there, so I've been to Athens a few times before. I absolutely love the coaches - I love what coach (Frank) Solich is doing - and I think I can help out down there."
One of the men who helped both of those players achieve such status was Ben Falfas, who started at fullback as a junior before moving to guard this season. He'll be a "hybrid back" at Notre Dame College, playing as a full back/tight end for the Falcons. He helped the Howland offense generate 315 yards per game (212 on the ground) and score 41 touchdowns. He also recovered a team-best four fumbles as a defensive lineman.
Falfas said he considered Baldwin-Wallace, but he liked the direction of Notre Dame College.
"That fact I can go to the next level, I feel very fortunate," Falfas said. "It was totally worth the grind. It was worth every little bit of hard work, every bit of sweat - everything."
Howland wasn't the only school seeing players decide to play at the next level. Robert Seger, a 6-foot wide receiver and defensive back for Kennedy, was recruited as a safety for Gannon University.
Seger did a little bit of everything for the Eagles as a senior. He caught a team-high 27 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns. He ran the ball 26 times for 104 yards and a touchdown. He returned 18 punts for 686 yards (a 38.1-yard average) and two touchdowns, and he also ran back nine kickoffs for 219 yards. He also returned an interception for a touchdown as a corner on defense.
While those stats are impressive, they're not why he chose to join the Golden Knights.
"The main thing for me was academics," said Seger of his decision to pick Gannon, where he intends to study law. "You're not going to be playing football your whole life. They have one of the great law schools, it's a really good academic school and I loved the campus and the coaches."
Seger also garnered interest from Akron University, Notre Dame College and Youngstown State University.
While the Penguins were an option for Seger, they were the choice for Brookfield's Ryan Mosora. YSU recruited the Brookfield back as an athlete. Mosora, who rushed for 1,704 yards and 20 touchdowns, considered smaller division schools like Findlay, Ashland and Slippery Rock, but said YSU just felt right.
"I grew to like the facilities there, they have a lot of new facilities and it just grew to feel like home," Mosora said. "The new indoor facility is real nice."
Mosora won't be the only Warrior suiting up for the Penguins in the spring. Teammates Derrick Sulick and Tyler Miller were offered to be preferred walk-ons.
"I'll be on practice teams, special teams, and hopefully will get a scholarship from there," Miller said.
While Miller is looking to work his way up, lineman Gary Hiner is excited for the chance to make an immediate impact for Edinboro. The 6-1 lineman is ready to help build an Edinboro team that has seen its share of struggles.
"Last year they didn't have a great season, but they made me feel like I could be a huge asset to them," Hiner said. "That was one of the biggest reasons I chose there."