Tattooed youth: Smith's spirit gets under his skin
The senior running back enjoyed being recruited.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
HOWLAND -- Lance Smith has already made his mark on Howland football and, in a way, Howland football has made its mark on him.
Smith, a senior running back who verbally committed to Wisconsin earlier this month, has three tattoos, including a large lion's head on his left shoulder.
"There's a football in its mouth to remind me to never give up the dream," he said. "To always keep it by my side."
He has his initials tattooed on his left wrist and his mom's initials on his right -- "I never go on the field without her," he said -- to remind him who he is and whose he is.
"She's everything," he said of his mother, Audreana. "I could go on forever about my mom."
Here's his story
Smith's story is a familiar one. One of three kids raised in a single-parent home, Smith dreamed of playing Big Ten football.
He was blessed with athletic gifts -- his stepbrother, Maurice Smith-Davis, was a Michigan State recruit and now plays at YSU -- but he also worked hard to capitalize on them.
He was also has a likable personality, which never hurts.
"Lance could become a Wal-Mart greeter," Howland coach Dick Angle said. "He's got a very outgoing personality and that's certainly going to help him. When he was going on his [recruiting] visits, we were concerned about him flying into Chicago by himself. But he handled himself very well. He's not afraid to talk to people."
Smith loved being recruited -- Smith had offers from Michigan and Iowa, among others -- but wanted to commit early in case he was injured or had a down season.
He also wanted to avoid the distractions that come with being a top recruit during football season.
"It would have been hard for him to make a bad choice," Angle said. "The thing is, at that level, everybody has a great stadium, everybody has a great weight room, everybody has academic support. What it really comes down to is trying in a short period of time to get a feel for the coaching staff and the players.
"That's not an easy thing to do."
Happy with Wisconsin
Smith felt comfortable with Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, and his successor, defensive coordinator Bret Bielema, who will take over next season. The Badgers also have a run-first mentality, which appealed to Smith.
"They've got a nice program and they recruit this area," Angle said. "Mike Echols, who I coached at Ursuline, was a four-year starter and he spoke highly of their program and their coaching staff."
His college choice complete, Smith can focus on improving on last season, where he rushed for more than 1,600 yards but watched as the Tigers lost four of their last five games to finish 6-4.
"We're going to do some damage this year," Smith said. "Last year, we started 5-0, I think we got a little, I don't want to say bigheaded, but I don't think we practiced as hard as we should have."
Angle said, "There's probably a little bit [of truth] to that. We had a senior class that was coming off two very, very successful seasons at Howland and maybe we thought things were just going to happen.
"In the Youngstown-Warren area, things don't just happen. You've got to make them happen."
Smith, obviously, will get most of the attention, but he's not the whole team. Free safety Aaron Womack and tackles Nate Durig and Pat Holland are getting looks from Division I schools.
"We've got the potential to be a great football team," Angle said. "Again, it comes down to the little things. We have to finish plays, finish tackling, finish interceptions, finish blocking and running.
"If we do that, I like our chances."
Smith would also like to improve on last year's performance, but that doesn't necessarily mean he has to rush for 2,000 yards.
"I'd rather rush for 1,000 yards and make the playoffs than rush for 2,000 and not make the playoffs," he said. "Winning is the most important thing."