Culture, education drew Tank Smith to Howard

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Thursday, August 9, 2018 | 10:27 PM


Since he began playing flag football as a 4-year-old, Penn Hills senior running back and linebacker Terry “Tank” Smith dreamed about being a football player.

On Aug. 2 , Smith announced his intention to continue his football dream by verbally committing to Howard via his personal Twitter account.

Smith is the second Indian to commit to Howard, joining senior quarterback Hollis Mathis, who committed May 18.

“What stood out to me the most is that it’s a famous HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities),” Smith said. “I’ve always been interested in HBCUs. I really like the culture of HBCUs. I feel like I could get bigger offers, but I feel like Howard is a great university, and I can get a great education.

“It wasn’t all about the football aspect of Howard, but they are on the rise and that’s intriguing. It was more so the fact I liked the university.”

During his junior season, the 5-foot-9, 200-pound versatile back led the Indians’ rushing attack with 678 yards and seven touchdowns on 126 carries. Smith was mulling an offer from Columbia before committing to Howard.

On defense, Smith ranked third on the team in tackles with 59, including eight tackles for a loss, three sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery.

Smith was a key part of a Penn Hills team that compiled and 8-4 overall record last fall and made the WPIAL Class 6A semifinals.

This season, Smith will split carries with Jordy Boswell. When he fast forwarded to his potential fit in the Howard offense, Smith thought he could mesh in Howard’s two-back system.

“I know they really like me as a feature back. They have a two-back system where they have a scatback and a power back. I feel like that’s where I fit in. I could play like a power back, but I have the shiftiness to play like a scatback, too,” Smith said.

Howard, an FCS program located in Washington, D.C., competes in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. In 2017, the Bison finished second behind North Carolina A&T in the MEAC, with a 7-4 overall record and 6-2 conference mark.

Mathis and Smith were recruited by a familiar face to those in the WPIAL – offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brennan Marion. The Greensburg Salem graduate has tried to use his WPIAL ties to convince players like Mathis and Smith to play for the Bison.

In fact, two other WPIAL stars announced their verbal commitments the same day as Smith — Steel Valley linebacker Todd Hill and West Mifflin cornerback/running back Parrish Parker.

“It meant a lot that Coach Marion grew up around from where I’m from, so he knows how my city is and how it’s not that easy to make it out. He’s an inter-city kid so he can recruit a lot kids in my situation,” Smith said.

Bison freshmen Rodney Dennard (Woodland Hills) and Anthony Young Jr. (Central Catholic) are close with Smith and were also influential in recruiting him to Howard.

During the early part of the recruiting process, Smith said he was receiving looks from Power Five programs. Unfortunately, the feedback he was receiving tested his mental makeup.

Smith wasn’t discouraged since he has a familiar Western Pennsylvania face to draw from – his uncle Terry Smith. Smith is the decorated former Gateway football coach and current assistant head coach and cornerbacks coach at Penn State.

“My uncle is a huge role model for me. He played at the Division I level. He’s an inspiration for me since we’re both undersized guys who had obstacles to climb and people doubting us. He’s a huge inspiration for me,” Tank Smith said.

“A lot of them would say I was a step too slow or inch too tall. But we never let that bring me down. We always stayed confident, and I know wherever I go I’m going to be the best running back in the nation.”

Andrew John is a freelance writer.

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