By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
Giovanni Weeks has always been fast, racking up plenty of blue ribbons during his elementary school days in Kent City.
But now his coach looks at him and sees something else.
“He’s a beast,” said 26th-year Kent City boys track coach Jeff Wilson. “He is thick and strong as an ox. Now he’s like a locomotive coming down the track.”
Weeks, a two-time all-state running back and three-sport athlete, is barreling toward the finish line of his prep career – starting with Friday’s MHSAA Division 3 Regional meet at Saugatuck.
His ultimate goal is to improve on last year’s impressive performance at the Finals, where he won the 200 meters, placed second in the 100 meters and fourth in the long jump.
The hardest part might be choosing which four events to do.
“I think I could do good in the 400, but that is so close to the 200 and I really want to defend my title in that,” explained Weeks, who helped the Eagles place third as a team at last year’s Finals. “And I’d like to do both sprint relays, but then there’s the long jump. I’ll just do what Coach puts me in.”
Weeks said it was his year-round weightlifting and speed and agility training which allowed him to emerge as one of the most decorated competitors at last year’s Finals as a junior.
“I’m most proud of how I kept sticking to it,” said Weeks, who was a key part of Kent City’s resurgence on the football field the past three seasons. “I put in the work and got faster and stronger. You can’t become a state champion any other way.”
The bigger and stronger Weeks won the 200 meters last year in 22.25 seconds and narrowly missed sweeping the two sprints, finishing three hundredths of a second behind winner Caleb Schutte of Grandville Calvin Christian in the 100.
Weeks and Schutte are back as seniors and expected to duel once again in the 100 and 200, at both Regionals this week and the Finals on June 1 at Jenison.
Weeks believes if he can get a good start that he can pull off the double.
“I have been working on my starts a lot, which is my biggest weakness,” said Weeks, whose best times are 11.06 seconds in the 100 and 21.9 in the 200. “Last year in the 100 at state, I lost it in the first 30 meters. If the race was 10 meters longer, I would have won, so I just need a better start.”
He also has a shot in the long jump, where he placed fourth last year at 20 feet, 10.25 inches. He recently leaped a career-best of 21-8.75.
Weeks is the third of four children of Chris and Michelle Weeks. Chris Weeks is the pastor of Kent City Baptist Church and a former college rugby player. Gio’s younger sister, Jasmine, is a sophomore sprinter for Kent City’s girls team.
Wilson describes his star sprinter as a “great all-around kid,” who is committed to academics, faith and sports. Weeks tries to encourage his teammates and younger kids in the community to reach their full potential.
“You need to work your tail off if you want to be successful,” said Weeks, a 3.87-GPA student who represented Kent City athletics at the West Michigan Student Showcase event in March.
He said the secret to his success is hard work and his Christian faith, adding that his only superstition is that “I pray before each race.”
Kent City has become known around the state for its terrific distance runners under Wilson, a former distance standout at Sparta who also ran at Central Michigan University. Wilson guided the Eagles to a second-place Finals team finish in 2009 and third place in 1998, primarily behind its strength in the longer races.
Last year, it was Weeks who sprinted and leaped for 23 of his team’s 32 points as Kent City took third.
Wilson hopes for another strong showing at both Regionals and the Finals behind Weeks and about “seven or eight good sprinters,” a crew which also includes Will Wright, Mateus Mello and Jayden Williams. Dolan Bair has produced consistent points in the two hurdle events and Evan Jones (800) and Nick Flegel (1600) are the leaders in the longer distances.
Weeks will take his work ethic and strong character to Wheaton College (Ill.) this fall, where he will play football for the traditional Division III powerhouse. He plans to study business economics and may also run for the track team.
Weeks, who has grown from about 5-9 and 140 pounds as a freshman to 6-1 and 200 pounds, holds career records at Kent City with 3,725 rushing yards and 57 touchdowns. He led the Eagles to three consecutive Central States Activities Association Silver titles and three straight playoff appearances.
He said a freak accident that occurred when he was little convinced him that he was called to play football.
“When I was little, a curling iron fell on my hand in the bathroom and it left a scar in the shape of a football,” Weeks said with a laugh. “I always tell people that I knew because of that I was meant to be a football player.”
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Kent City’s Giovanni Weeks, second from left, paces the field during a sprint this season. (Middle) Weeks lands a long jump, one of three events in which he placed at last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. (Photos by Mary Wilson.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)