HOWLAND - There was a little wink in an eye of De'Veon Smith when he talked about the way the Howland Tigers might play things out on offense this season.
"People may say I might get the ball a lot," said Smith, who totaled 5,143 yards in three previous seasons. "But this year we've got a little surprise for them. I can't say it."
Inquiring minds wonder what the Tigers could do differently on offense from what produced two straight undefeated regular seasons. With the 5-foot-11, 218-pound Smith back for his senior season, why would coach Dick Angle order up anything but a steady diet of power runs and toss sweeps for the guy wearing number 4?
When the Tigers do go away from Smith, they have a capable quarterback in senior Eric Lockney. Senior Brenden Cope has 4.4 speed at a receiver spot, while adding the dimension to line up at quarterback in a wildcat look.
"The last few years I've had my limited shots," said Cope, who doubles as one of the better cornerbacks in the area. "This year it seems pretty even. We're going to spread it out a little bit. We still have our basic packages of running it up the middle. We just open up the plays for each other. De'Veon's blast plays and my long plays. People have to trust both ways."
Lockney will take the majority of snaps at quarterback and try to manage everything. Lockney knows that Angle isn't going to suddenly change the offense and become pass-happy, but he echoed Smith's comment about the possibility of springing a few surprises on opponents.
"We have some things planned this year that is a little bit of a different style than last year," Lockney said. "We're going to try to throw more than we did in previous years."
Lockney is comfortable with Cope occasionally stepping in at quarterback. He certainly has no problem seeing Cope line up on the outside with his blazing speed.
"He can run anything," Lockney said. "We can line him up at wildcat quarterback. We can put him at wide receiver. Throw him anything and he'll catch it."
Before anyone gets carried away, let's get one thing straight: Smith will get the bulk of work. When a coach has a tailback who's headed to the University of Michigan, it would be foolish not to stick the ball in his belly for a high percentage of plays.
Smith thinks beyond yardage totals when commenting on what he can do to help the team.
"Just keep on working hard; pushing my team and making my team better," Smith said. "Be a team player. Be a captain and lead my team to better things."
It doesn't go unnoticed to opposing coaches that Smith is a talented inside linebacker. Angle tries to give Smith breaks on the defensive side to keep him as fresh as possible for his offensive duties.
Smith's attitude is what you'd expect of a strong, young man with loads of energy.
"It's not asking a lot for me," Smith said. "I'll do anything for my team. I'll play any position on the field if they need me to."
All the seniors have grown accustomed to winning with regularity and qualifying for the Division II playoffs. The Tigers enter the season with a 22-game winning streak in the regular season and have qualified for the playoffs five straight years.
There's no question that opposing teams have circled Howland on their schedules.
"It's a little bit of pressure," Cope said. "We just come to it as a new season. We're taking it one week at a time and seeing how it treats us. It's mainly a new team."
Graduation hit the Tigers hard. Angle had to replace nine starters on defense and eight on offense. Opponents are undoubtedly wringing their hands in anticipation of taking their shots.
"We don't have the size and numbers that we had last year," Lockney said. "The way we look at it, we work harder than every other team. We have a couple of guys that are on the smaller size, but they're quick and fast and aggressive."
The only disappointing thing about the recent run of playoff appearances is the inability to get beyond the second round. Last season the Tigers lost to Kent Roosevelt, 30-21, in the first round.
It all starts Thursday when the Tigers travel to Ashtabula to play Lakeside. Can they make it three straight undefeated seasons?
"If we keep working hard," Smith said.