Howland running back looking to make the jump from XFL to NFL

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De'Veon Smith has had his season cut short twice with both the AAF and the XFL

Tampa Bay Vipers running back De’Veon Smith (24) runs the ball up the field during an XFL football game against the New York Guardians, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. The New York Guardians won 23-3. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – It’s been a frustrating couple of years for De’Veon Smith.

The Howland graduate has had his season cut short not once, but twice each of the last two years.

In 2019, he played just eight games for the Alliance of American Football before the league filed for bankruptcy and folded. This year, he played five games in the XFL before the season was canceled due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Both opportunities were supposed to be a stepping stone back to the NFL.

“I just got to stay positive,” says De’Veon Smith. “Can’t get down on myself because, at one point when I first got released from the NFL, it was kind of depressing. But knowing that I have a job no matter what with the XFL, if I don’t get signed, it takes a load off. But the end goal is still get back to the NFL.”

The NFL has already signed 12 players from the XFL this week, including one of Smith’s teammates in Tampa. Now he’s waiting for a phone call.

Smith was leading the league in rushing this year with 365 yards on 90 carries for the Tampa Bay Vipers.

“For me personally, I definitely started to feel it,” says Smith. “The game started to slow down for me. I feel like I did more than enough to get back to where I want to be. I led the league in rushing. I was catching the ball a lot out of the backfield, pass protection, I was doing it all. Only time will tell, and we’ll see if I get that phone call.”

Last year, Smith played in for the Orlando Apollos and was second in the league in scoring with six touchdowns and averaging nearly five yards per carry.

“We had a really good team,” says Smith. “We were winning. We had a great group of guys. It was fun because we were winning.”

Smith says he was putting good work on film during his time with the AAF and the XFL, which is crucial for scouts in the NFL. But there were differences in the two leagues, especially when it came to the end of the season.

“Night and day,” says Smith. After the AAF folded, Smith says he had friends in the league that were told to leave the team hotel and find their own flights home. When league play was stopped in the XFL, the players were treated much differently.

“Soon as the XFL ended, we got to stay an extra week if we wanted to. You could stay as long as you want because they didn’t want to send us home to an area where the virus is really bad,” says Smith. “They were just making sure that we were going to a safe environment no matter what, and they care for us. There was a big difference between the AAF and the XFL.”

De’Veon Smith signed with Miami Dolphins as an unrestricted free agent in 2017 and spent most of that season on the team’s practice squad. He also had an opportunity in 2018 with the Washington Redskins but was released before the season started.

It’s a tough, and very competitive road for running backs in the NFL. The average career is less than three years.

This is De’Veon Smith’s fourth season as a professional.

He’s never had a major injury, or any surgeries, which is surprising for a player with his rugged running style. Smith says his health and experience are only a couple of the things he brings to the table, though.

So what else does an NFL team get with De’Veon Smith?

“A vet in the room,” says Smith. “From Tampa to Orlando, I was the oldest running back in the room, so I had to take a lot of guys under my wing and show them the little things, help them out. A guy that’s competitive, wont’ quit on his team. Somebody who’s a leader on and off the field. Somebody that’s going to push the next guy to the next level, and somebody that’s coachable.”

De’Veon Smith is Howland’s all-time leading rusher with 6,750 career yards and 82 touchdowns. He played four years at the University of Michigan, rushing for 2,235 yards and 22 touchdowns with the Wolverines.

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