Dean to lead Howland Tigers

HOWLAND — The Howland Tigers faced some early-season adversity in 2016, as the team started the year 0-2, and some thought the season was a total loss. Howland had narrowly missed the postseason in 2014 and ’15, and all of the high hopes placed on 2016 were slowly beginning to fade, as they’d already dug themselves into a big hole.

The 2016 Tiger team featured 20 seniors, including Tyriq Ellis, Stephen Baugh, Victor Williams and George Beatty-Marsh, all of whom had big years. However, one player who was just as important to the team’s ultimate success, which included a seven-game winning streak starting Week 3, was Samari Dean.

It’s no coincidence that Dean, then a junior, was inserted into the lineup as the team’s starting signal-caller in Week 3 against Lakeside, as the winning streak ultimately lifted Howland into the postseason for the first time in four years.

“It wasn’t really that big of a deal because I played varsity as a freshman,” Dean said. “But, being able to play with the guys last year was a great experience. They loved me when I first got here, and I loved them, and we became a brotherhood.”

Last year’s success, and especially the winning streak to lift the Tigers into the postseason, was certainly special. However, with just five starters returning for 2017, along with the aforementioned losses, this year could be more of a struggle for Howland — or maybe not.

While Howland is undoubtedly much younger, they do return three starting offensive linemen, plus, Dean. Thus far, Howland coach Dominic Menendez has been very pleased with the way Dean has taken charge of his football team.

“No. 1, he’s a great athlete. No. 2, he’s a competitor, doesn’t settle for mediocrity — which is what we look for and is what we want,” Menendez said. “Our guys have got to feed off of him, offensively. He’s going to be playing some defense as well, so hopefully he carries that leadership role over to the defensive side.”

Indeed, Dean will also start at strong safety, and he’ll try to lead a very thin secondary. Dean did not start on defense last year, so he himself will have to learn on the fly. However, Dean, who’s being recruited by a handful of Mid-American Conference (MAC) schools to either play safety or slot receiver, carries himself with great confidence.

To succeed as a leader, particularly as the team’s quarterback, having a lot of confidence is key. Despite the uncertainty that surrounds Howland right now, Dean — like Menendez — expects this year’s team to get back to Week 11 and beyond.

“We look good, it’s just next man up,” Dean said. “We expected this in the offseason, (and) everybody’s gotta compete and get better, that’s all. I take charge in the locker room, try to be a lot more versatile — making plays defensively (and) special teams when I can.”

Based on all of that, it should come as no surprise that football was always Dean’s first love. He started playing the game at age 5, and he says that he loves the physicality of the game and the ability to develop a bond with his teammates.

Dean’s love for his teammates also extends to the Howland coaching staff and football program, as a whole.

“(Coach Menendez is) a great coach, a great guy,” Dean said. “He loves us, we love him. He’s ready to compete and all he wants is for us to compete. I wouldn’t trade him for the world.”

If you ask the Howland Tigers’ locker room, they wouldn’t trade Dean’s leadership, either.