The football talk is turning up as we reach the midpoint of the 2021 regular season.
Much of what’s coming to the MHSAA office these days concerns the first-time fully-implemented “enhanced strength-of-schedule” format for selecting this year’s playoff qualifiers. So as we prepare to look at some of the games that will shape the field, here’s a quick review of the process that eventually will get us to 256 teams for 11-player and 32 teams in the 8-player brackets.
Let’s start with 11-player and start with the most fundamental change. Teams no longer make the playoffs by winning a certain number of games. Six-wins-and-in is out. Just like for 8-player, the field will be selected solely based on playoff-point average accrued as a combination of success and opponents’ strength of schedule.
The calculation of playoff-point average actually changed last year – but because nearly every team made the postseason due to a temporary COVID-19 restructuring, the new math mostly went unnoticed. Simply put, the newer formula is designed to reward a team for scheduling strong opponents by giving it bonuses based on opponents’ successes throughout the season – no matter if that team won or lost when it played those opponents. Those bonuses also are assigned differently, with points awarded by Division instead of the former “Class” of an opponent. Click here for a further breakdown of the differences between old and new formats.
One more important thing to note: Playoff divisions for 11 and 8-player are determined before the season instead of after Week 9. So teams know every possible opponent long before the playoffs start and can follow their progress toward making the field every week on the MHSAA Website.
Bay & Thumb
Freeland (4-0) at Frankenmuth (4-0)
The Eagles have not lost a league game since Week 4 of 2014, a stretch of 42 consecutive conference wins including the first three of this fall’s Tri-Valley Conference East slate. Freeland could provide the greatest threat yet to that run. While Frankenmuth won last year’s matchup 41-3 in the delayed regular-season opener, the Falcons went on to make the Division 5 Semifinals as the Eagles advanced to the title game at Ford Field. (Freeland and Frankenmuth lost to eventual champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central in successive weeks.) That success has carried over for both. Freeland opened this season downing reigning Jack Pine Conference champion Clare, and last week’s 43-13 victory over Essexville Garber was similarly notable. The Eagles, meanwhile, are the only team to defeat Goodrich so far.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Midland Dow (2-2) at Bay City Western (4-0), Millington (4-0) at Carrollton (3-1), Richmond (3-1) at Croswell-Lexington (3-1), Mount Pleasant (4-0) at Midland (2-2), Harrison Township L'Anse Creuse (3-1) at Port Huron (3-1).
Warren De La Salle Collegiate (3-0) at Orchard Lake St. Mary's (4-0)
The way Detroit Catholic League Central teams have begun this season, it will be hard to not pick one of that league’s matchups as the Detroit area’s premier game over the next few weeks. This one gets the nod over Sunday’s Detroit Catholic Central/Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice showdown in part because De La Salle is coming off a 21-16 win over the Warriors and already has an important edge in the standings. But also making this intriguing is the bounce-back success of St. Mary’s, which finished 2-4 a year ago but has opened with a series of nice wins including over Hudsonville and Harper Woods.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Brownstown Woodhaven (4-0) at Allen Park (4-0), Belleville (3-1) at Dearborn Fordson (4-0), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (3-1) at Romeo (4-0), South Lyon (4-0) at White Lake Lakeland (4-0).
Jackson Lumen Christi (4-0) at Hastings (4-0)
The Saxons were among the best stories of the 2020 season, as they broke a string of seven straight sub-.500 finishes to win a share of the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference title. Hastings actually lost last year’s opener to Parma Western, but started its turnaround the next week by downing the Titans 14-13. The Saxons are up to nine straight regular-season wins, but get a Lumen Christi team this time that has an opening win over reigning Division 7 champion New Lothrop to its credit after putting everything back together to finish last fall with a Regional Finals run.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Evart (4-0) at Beal City (3-1), Grand Ledge (4-0) at DeWitt (3-1), Montrose (3-1) at New Lothrop (3-1), Fowler (2-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Boyne City (4-0) at Traverse City St. Francis (4-0), Saturday
This means little in the short run as these two play in different divisions of the Northern Michigan Football Conference, but could say a lot if they continue on to win league championships and make playoff noise. They’ve long been rivals, playing together in multiple conferences including the NMFC’s Legends division through 2019, and they represent some of the best this region has to offer with Boyne City ranked No. 5 in Division 6 by playoff-point average and St. Francis No. 4 in Division 7. Boyne City is giving up only six points per contest and will try to match a Gladiators offense averaging 50 points and coming off two straight games scoring 63.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Grayling (3-1) at Kingsley (4-0), Traverse City Central (3-1) at Petoskey (3-1), Maple City Glen Lake (1-3) at Charlevoix (3-1), East Jordan (3-1) at Oscoda (2-2).
Southeast & Border
Riverview (4-0) at Monroe St. Mary's Catholic Central (4-0)
Monroe St. Mary and Milan often are the talk of the Huron League, but Riverview is looking again like possibly the team to beat after winning last season’s league title and opening this fall’s conference schedule by outscoring three opponents by a combined 116-17. The Pirates have won 11 straight league games going back to mid-2019, including 35-7 over St. Mary in last year’s opener. But the Falcons are surging as well and already have overcome a major league obstacle, defeating Milan last week 21-15.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Petersburg Summerfield (3-1) at Adrian Madison (2-2), Napoleon (3-1) at Hanover-Horton (2-2), Hudson (4-0) at Ida (3-1), Sand Creek (3-1) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (3-1).
Edwardsburg (4-0) at Plainwell (4-0)
It’s impossible to not marvel a bit at Edwardsburg’s work again this season. The Eddies have outscored their four opponents by a combined 203-7, and those four opponents are a combined 11-1 not counting their Edwardsburg defeats. Enter Plainwell, potentially headed toward an 11th-straight .500 or better season, riding its best start since 2013 and boasting a defense giving up just under nine points per game. The challenge is mighty, of course, but the Trojans can’t be overlooked.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Watervliet (4-0) at Berrien Springs (4-0), Constantine (4-0) at Parchment (3-1), Niles (3-1) at Vicksburg (3-1), Centreville (3-1) at White Pigeon (4-0).
Hancock (2-2) at Houghton (3-1)
Go back probably to 2013 – when Houghton need to defeat Hancock in Week 9 to make the playoffs – for the last time this rivalry carried so many additional implications. Houghton is off to its best start since 2016 and would be part of the Division 6 playoff field if the season ended today, while Hancock can eclipse last season’s win total with another one tonight and could make up some ground in the Division 5 playoff race.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Iron Mountain (2-2) at Bark River-Harris (3-1), Marquette (3-1) at Gladstone (2-2), Manistique (2-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (3-1), Kingsford (3-1) at Escanaba (1-3).
Hudsonville (2-2) at Rockford (4-0)
The Eagles’ record requires the context of their losses being to Saline and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s – which are a combined 8-0 – and by just a combined six points. Hudsonville edged Jenison by just a point last week and make any feelings of early disappointment all but disappear with a similar result against the Rams. The Ottawa-Kent Conference Red powers missed their regular-season game against each other last season, but Rockford won their playoff matchup to run their streak in the rivalry to six.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Reed City (3-1) at Big Rapids (3-1), Grand Haven (3-1) at Caledonia (4-0), Byron Center (4-0) at Grand Rapids Northview (3-1), Muskegon Mona Shores (3-1) at Zeeland East (3-1).
Adrian Lenawee Christian (4-0) at Colon (4-0)
This is another strong candidate for 8-player regular-season game of the year, combining storylines and successes. Colon will attempt to hand Lenawee Christian its first defeat in two seasons of 8-player football and was the only team to come close to slowing the Division 1 champion Cougars last season – Lenawee Christian won their matchup 24-6, but scored 47 or more points against their other 10 opponents and are up over 61 points per game this fall. The Magi – Division 1 champs two seasons ago – enter this meeting having posted two straight shutouts and averaging nearly 53 points per contest. But the Cougars aren’t just tough to stop; they also are giving up just under seven points per game.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Crystal Falls Forest Park (4-0) at Norway (3-1), Newberry (301) at Rudyard (4-0), Genesee (3-1) at Burton Atherton (3-1). SATURDAY Suttons Bay (4-0) at Munising (3-1).
Second Half’s weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTO: Alma defenders begin to collapse the pocked during Freeland’s Week 2 win over the Panthers. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)