DETROIT – Battling back to overcome a slow start was a theme to Jackson Lumen Christi’s football season.
After starting the fall 0-3, Lumen Christi rattled off 10 straight wins to advance to Saturday’s Division 7 championship game.
So when the Titans faced a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit against Traverse City St. Francis, there was no panic on the sidelines – just motivation to overcome it.
“Everybody, we just don’t give up,” Lumen Christi running back Derrick Walker said. “We all know the work we put in, and everything we did in the offseason and throughout the season. There were not too many people that believed in us, but we believed in ourselves. I told them that we’re not out of this game until the clock hits zero.”
Walker and his teammates had one more comeback in them, rallying for a 15-12 victory against the Gladiators to claim the school’s 12th Finals title, and first since 2018.
The win avenged one of those three losses from the beginning of the season, as St. Francis topped Lumen Christi 42-35 in Week 2.
“It was so motivating,” Lumen Christi quarterback Joe Lathers said of the early-season loss. “That’s the one thing that we were talking about all week, that we played them and lost to them earlier in the season. Also, we had an 0-3 start and faced so much adversity. A lot of people doubted us.”
Being doubted isn’t something Lumen Christi (11-3) has been able to claim often, especially not during the more than 40 years coach Herb Brogan has been in charge. Saturday’s victory was his 395th leading Lumen Christi, compared to 94 losses. It was also his 10th Finals title, breaking a tie for second most by a coach with former Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa. Former Farmington Hills Harrison coach John Herrington holds the record with 13.
“It’s the same as the other nine (titles),” Brogan said. “It’s just great for the kids. Because no matter how many we’ve had before, they haven’t had one. That’s where the focus is at.”
Getting to No. 10 was a grind, not only in navigating the 0-3 start to the season, but in getting anything going against the Gladiators’ defense.
Lumen Christi had just 64 yards of offense at halftime, as it trailed 12-0. Eventually, though, the Titans began to find some success, specifically on the ground with Lathers. Lumen rushed for 112 yards in the fourth quarter as it mounted its comeback. Lathers had 89 of those fourth-quarter yards, and finished the game with 115 yards on the ground and 99 through the air.
Lathers scored Lumen Christi’s first touchdown on an 18-yard run 50 seconds into the fourth quarter, while Walker scored on a 2-yard run with 7:05 to play. An extra point by Andrew Salazar, and a two-point fumble recovered in the end zone by Conor Smith, ended up making the three-point difference.
“I think one of the things, I think that hurt them, is they’re so good they didn’t have to play many four-quarter games,” Brogan said. “Then you move from the up north environment to indoors and it gets hot like it did, I think they wore down a little bit.”
St. Francis (13-1) would get the ball just once more after Walker’s score, and that drive ended on an interception by Lumen Christi’s Alex Pastoriza.
Lumen Christi took over with 6:21 left on the clock and ran it all the way down by getting four first downs. The biggest was the first, as Walker converted a 4th-and-1 from the Lumen Christi 46-yard line.
“I had confidence that we were going to be able to get it,” Brogan said. “Too many bad things happen when you punt the ball. We struggled with the snap a few times. They came close to blocking the one. I felt good about our chances.”
The play was close, but Walker was sure of it before he hit the ground.
“The line had a great push,” he said. “I knew I had it. I was screaming, ‘Yes sir,’ as I was going down. Great push.”
While Lumen Christi’s offense was getting going, its defense was standing firm. St. Francis gained just 29 yards in the second half, after going for 200 in the first. The Gladiators also barely had the ball, as they ran just 12 second-half plays.
“We won the first half and lost the second half,” St. Francis coach Josh Sellers said. “We didn’t play how we typically play, but a lot of that had to do with the way Jackson Lumen Christi played us today. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for sure, especially because a lot of these guys were in the same position a couple of years ago, and had the intent of righting that runner-up finish with a championship. We just couldn’t get it done today.”
St. Francis built its lead with a pair of rushing touchdowns in the second quarter. Joey Donahue had the first with a 1-yard run, while Wyatt Nausadis had the second with a 9-yard run.
Nausadis finished with a team-leading 77 yards rushing. Donahue and Josh Hagelstein each had 13 tackles for the Gladiators, with Hagelstein adding a pair of interceptions. Garrett Hathaway had eight tackles, including four for loss and two sacks.
Smith and Devian Franklin led the Lumen Christi defense with seven tackles apiece.
PHOTOS (Top) Lumen Christi quarterback Joe Lathers (12) charges toward the end zone during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Division 7 Final. (Middle) The Titans’ Derrick Walker (4) and Conor Smith (99) celebrate Walker’s fourth-quarter touchdown. (Below) Britton Hampton (3) makes his move during the kickoff return. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.)