1st & Goal: 2021 8-Player Finals Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

November 17, 2021

Saturday’s 8-Player Football Finals would struggle to feel more familiar.

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After a year away, the Division 1 and 2 championship games will be returning to Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University. Three of four finalists will be playing for titles for the second-straight season – Adrian Lenawee Christian and Powers North Central are returning champions, and Suttons Bay a returning runner-up – while Colon also will play again on the final day after making the Finals in 2019.

Lenawee Christian (12-0) and Suttons Bay (12-0) will kick off the day in Division 1 at 11 a.m., followed by North Central (12-0) and Colon (11-1) approximately 2 p.m. Both games will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv, and replayed on Bally Sports Detroit’s primary channel Nov. 25 beginning at 7 p.m. Audio of both games will be streamed live on MHSAANetwork.com.

Below is a look at all four finalists. Team “rankings” are based on their playoff-point averages heading into the postseason. Statistics are through Semifinals unless noted.

Division 1

Record/rank: 12-0, No. 1
Coach: Bill Wilharms, ninth season (69-24)
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association A
Championship history: 8-Player Division 1 champion 2020.
Best wins: 36-14 over No. 3 Martin in Semifinals, 41-0 (Regional Final) and 41-20 over No. 6 Britton Deerfield, 47-21 over Division 2 No. 7 Colon.
Players to watch: QB/CB Ashur Bryja, 5-8/150 sr. (1,862 yards/27 TDs passing, 681 yards/15 TDs rushing); RB/DB/K/P Clay Ayers, 5-10/170, sr. (816 yards/16 TDs rushing, 395 yards/5 TDs receiving); WR/LB Elliott Addleman, 6-5/195, sr. (777 yards/12 TDs receiving). OG/DL Jacobus Kegerreis, 5-9/185, sr.
Outlook: Lenawee Christian has yet to lose an 8-player game since switching from 11-player, building a combined 23-0 record over the last two seasons that includes a 47-0 win over Suttons Bay in last season’s Division 1 Final. The closest an opponent has come over those two seasons is 16 points. The Cougars graduated last season’s standout running back and quarterback and haven’t missed a beat, outscoring their opponents by an average score of 51-8. The offense is easy to praise and understandably so, but the defense deserves substantial credit – through the Regional Final, Lenawee Christian was allowing 2.6 yards per rush and teams to complete only 31 percent of their pass attempts. Kegerreis and Ayers were all-state first team selections as juniors, Ayers as a kicker.

Record/rank: 12-0, No. 2
Coach: Garrick Opie, fourth season (43-4)
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Championship history: 8-player Division 1 runner-up 2019 and 2020, 11-player Division 6 runner-up 2004.
Best wins: 42-36 (OT) over No. 12 Rudyard in Semifinal, 53-18 over No. 4 Indian River Inland Lakes in Regional Final, 49-8 (Regional Semifinal) and 48-18 over No. 16 Mesick, 46-0 over No. 7 Munising, 45-0 over Division 2 No. 3 Marion.
Players to watch: RB/DB Hugh Periard, 6-0/175, sr. (1,028 yards/19 TDs rushing); RB/DB Shawn Bramer, 6-2/200, jr. (1,725 yards/24 TDs rushing, 892 yards/8 TDs receiving); QB/DB Dylan Barnowski, 6-0/155, jr. (1,570 yards/24 TDs passing); OL/DL Cameron Alberts, 6-1/290, sr.  
Outlook: Suttons Bay will be playing in the Division 1 championship game for the third-consecutive season, and its only losses over the last two seasons have been in those previous two Finals. The Norseman are coming off their closest game over the last two years, with a late hook-and-ladder play helping to save the day in last week’s overtime win over Rudyard. But even counting the 36 points scored by the Bulldogs, Suttons Bay’s defense is again imposing giving up 12 points per game and no more than 18 to any other opponent. The Norseman had intercepted 12 passes this season heading into the Semifinal; meanwhile, Suttons Bay has thrown for 26 touchdowns with only one interception. Senior tight end Brayden Opie is the most sizable target at 6-3 and has caught seven touchdown passes.

Division 2

Record/rank: 11-1, No. 7
Coach: Robbie Hattan, sixth season (48-17)
League finish: Second in Southern Central Athletic Association A
Championship history: 8-player Division 1 champion 2019.
Best wins: 42-6 over No. 4 Au Gres-Sims in Semifinal, 29-22 over No. 1 Morrice in Regional Final, 35-13 over No. 6 Portland St. Patrick in Regional Semifinal, 44-24 over No. 12 Climax-Scotts.
Players to watch: QB/DB Simon Vinson, 6-3/185, jr. (1,212 yards/24 TDs rushing, 2,253 yards/37 TDs passing); RB/LB Kaleb Johnson, 5-8/160, sr. (727 yards/10 TDs rushing, 377 yards/3 TDs receiving); WR/DB Justin Wickey, 5-11/160, jr. (1,454 yards/21 TDs receiving).
Outlook: Colon’s first three playoff wins have doubled as the lone losses this season for those opponents, and the Magi face one more opportunity against an undefeated foe Saturday. Their only loss was to Division 1 unbeaten Lenawee Christian, and otherwise only Morrice has come closer than 12 points. Vinson earned an all-state honorable mention last season and has put up passing numbers that rank among the best in MHSAA 8-player history – his 2,253 yards and 37 touchdowns both rank fourth for a single season in their respective categories. Senior Kody Dovey joins Vinson, Johnson and Wickey among two-way starters and has 544 yards and eight touchdowns receiving.

Record/rank: 12-0, No. 2
Coach: Leo Gorzinski, fourth season (41-3)
League finish: First in Great Lakes Eight Conference West
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2020).
Best wins: 73-8 over No. 3 Marion in Semifinal, 65-8 (Regional Final) and 42-0 over T-No. 9 Crystal Falls Forest Park, 64-14 over No. 11 Pellston in Regional Semifinal, 65-0 over T-No. 9 Lake Linden-Hubbell.
Players to watch: QB/LB Luke Gorzinski, 5-9/175, jr. (1,009 yards/17 TDs rushing, 926 yards/12 TDs passing); RB/DT Wyatt Raab, 5-7/170, sr. (925 yards/23 TDs rushing, 3 TDs receiving); RB/LB Alex Naser, 5-8/155, sr. (159 yards, 3 TDs receiving); OT/DE Lane Nehring, 6-0/280, sr.
Outlook: North Central dominated Division 2 in winning the championship last season, and has been even better this fall. Last week’s Semifinal win over Marion pushed the Jets’ average score this season to 62-4, and only Pellston three weeks ago has put up more than eight points on a defense that starts six seniors. The playmakers will be plenty familiar to anyone who watched last season’s championship games. Luke Gorzinski made the all-state first team last season and set a record for total offense in an 8-Player Final with 455 yards passing and rushing combined – also running for four touchdowns and throwing for three more – and Raab scored four times as the Jets set an 8-Player Finals record for scoring in the 70-48 win over Portland St. Patrick.

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Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“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.

John GuilleanGuillean 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.”

Great anticipation

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.

Derek GriblerGribler 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 ShebestPam 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 pamkzoo@aol.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.)