Last summer, Howard High School's football coaching staff took a look at Guy Smith and decided to break with tradition.
Never before had a non-senior player at Howard been chosen as team captain. Smith, a junior fullback/linebacker, changed that.
"A couple of egos were hurt, but there was no question in anyone's mind that he deserved it," said senior guard Kevin Corwin, one of Howard's four co-captains.
There remains no doubt about the prudence of the decision today, not with the kind of season Smith is enjoying.
Through eight games, he has rushed for 837 yards on 118 carries (7.1-yard average) and 10 touchdowns, all team highs. He has cracked the 100-yard mark five times and is coming off his finest offensive performance of the year, having rushed for a season-high 177 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Lions to a come-from-behind 24-20 victory over Centennial.
On the flip side of the ball, Smith has been just as dangerous. He leads the team with 55 solo tackles, 39 assists and eight tackles for losses. He also has recorded one interception, two fumble recoveries and two sacks.
Throw in the fact that Smith plays on the Lions' punt and kickoff return teams, that he is arguably the county's most devastating blocking back and that he sets a valuable example in the weight room, and you have a portrait of a possible Player of the Year.
Where would the 5-3 Lions (3-2 in county) be without him? Probably not contemplating their first winning season under seventh-year coach John Quinn.
"Guy is our man. He's such a leader with his work ethic," Quinn says. "He's involved in 98 out of 100 snaps. He's by far the best runner I've ever had. He's the best football player on both sides of the ball I've ever had."
Smith, who cuts a muscular 5-foot-9, 185-pound figure, didn't emerge from nowhere this fall.
After an outstanding junior varsity season as a freshman -- he led the Lions to a 6-1 record -- he blossomed in his first varsity season last year. While playing well at inside linebacker, he combined with tailback Kirk Wise for over 1,200 yards rushing. Still, Howard faded after a 5-1 start and finished with a 5-5 record. Smith knew the reason.
"We weren't strong enough. We had good JV seasons, but when you come to the varsity, it's a whole different story," Smith says. "You've got to be bigger, stronger and faster. In past years, no one was coming to the weight room."
Smith changed that. Already a devoted lifter, he began visiting the weight room religiously in the off-season. He also urged team members, particularly linemen, to join him. Over the summer, while Howard's facility was being renovated, Atholton coach Don Van Deusen made the Raiders' weight room available to the Lions. Smith often checked up on his teammates.
"It had a little bit to do with pride," says Steve Markley, a senior guard and co-captain. "I had a problem with a back being bigger than me."
Corwin adds, "If he saw a guy who hadn't been there [lifting] in a while, he'd pull him aside. He's a real quiet guy. He doesn't yell, he encourages you. But when he gets fired up in the huddle, you don't want him running up your back. That would hurt too much."
Part of Smith's success this year is the result of a bad break. His backfield mate, Wise, injured his leg early in the season and has not played in six weeks. That has shifted the focus of Howard's ground game to Smith, who has responded tirelessly.
"I had to run the ball more and be the big player on defense," Smith says. "I was ready for that responsibility. I wanted it anyway."
He showed it last weekend. After the Lions had blown a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter, Smith -- who injured his shoulder on the previous kickoff return -- led the Lions on a decisive 82-yard drive. He started the march with two 14-yard bursts over the middle, then finished it with a 14-yard touchdown.
"My shoulder had popped out of place, and I was tired," he says. "But I had to continue. I wanted the ball."