MARQUETTE – Carsonville-Port Sanilac sophomore Dan Rickett emerged from his team’s final huddle of this season, pulled close to an assistant coach and said, “This one says MHSAA this time.”
His Tigers also celebrated a championship last season – a perfect season in fact, but unofficial title because the MHSAA has not yet instituted playoffs for the now 3-year-old sport.
This year, the first playoffs were held. And that made Friday’s 59-20 win over Rapid River at the Superior Dome – and the trophy C-PS then received – mean so much more.
The Tigers are the first MHSAA 8-player football champions.
“All the people saying last year was nothing, this will shut them up,” C-PS senior quarterback Hayden Adams said. “It means a lot more because we actually had to make a run in the playoffs. It’s that much harder, and we had to play that much better every game.
“I think we topped it off at the end of the season.”
A total of 1,433 fans – most wearing Rapid River’s purple and yellow – cheered on the teams in the inaugural game. C-PS finished 12-1 overall to move to 21-1 in coach Tim Brabant’s two seasons. The Rockets finished 11-2 in their first season of 8-player.
The sport was added by the MHSAA in 2009 to provide another option for schools with enrollments so small they had difficulty fielding an 11-player squad. Playoffs were added this season after the necessary 20 schools announced they’d be sponsoring 8-player teams.
That was not lost on either team, even for Rapid River in the loss. The Rockets had won one game each of the last two seasons playing 11-player teams.
“We had never played in the postseason at all since I’ve been here,” Rapid River senior running back Jacob Berglund said. “To make it this far, it’s awesome.”
Offense has reigned in the early stages of the MHSAA 8-player game. The Final kept to that standard.
The teams combined for 901 yards. Adams completed 12 of 17 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns, and ran for 130 more yards and two scores. Two of his scoring passes were to his brother Trevor Adams, also a senior, including a 43-yarder on the second play of the game. Rickett ran for 78 yards and a touchdown on five carries, and also caught six passes for 133 yards and two scores.
The Tigers jumped out to a 19-0 lead and pushed it to 27-6 by the end of the first quarter. But in 8-player football, a 21-point advantage generally is not a safe one.
Rapid River outscored C-PS in the second quarter to get within 39-20 by halftime. After completing just one pass during the first quarter, Rockets sophomore quarterback Jake Pearson threw for 144 yards and two scores during the second.
But then something somewhat unimaginable happened. The Tigers held the Rockets scoreless the rest of the game.
“At halftime we made some adjustments on what we should do when they motioned. We picked it up real fast,” said C-PS senior linebacker Steven Koehler, who finished with a game-high 20 tackles, including 12 solos.
“I think that the fact they had 10 seniors, and the speed. They’re a year older, two years older in some cases,” Rapid River coach Steve Ostrenga listed as reasons his team had difficulties. “You get two more years of development in that respect as far as strength, and their speed was noticeable. I think that was the big key, their speed.”
Half of C-PS’s players were seniors who had served large roles on this and last season’s teams.
“It’s very fun to watch when we have a group of kids who are that athletic, hard working, and very polite. It’s hard for me to send these guys off,” Brabant said. “I get emotional just thinking about it. But … I know they’re going to be very successful in life.”
The Rockets, meanwhile, graduate just seven players, and also had seven freshmen and three sophomores this fall. Said Pearson, “It was a great learning experience. We know what we have to do for next year now.”
“Now all the teams are going to see what we do,” Adams said. “And they’re going to start doing all the things we do.”
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.)