By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
Muskegon Oakridge had an extra reason to celebrate in the rain on Friday night.
It was about more than just overcoming sloppy conditions and the never-say-die Montague Wildcats in a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 in The Associated Press’ Division 5 rankings. There was more to it than getting a leg up in the West Michigan Conference race with a thrilling 15-13 overtime win.
This was about overcoming two of the most heartbreaking losses imaginable one year ago – and dedicating the win to those who never got a shot at redemption.
“That win was for those seniors from last year,” said Oakridge running back Leroy Quinn, a four-year starter who rushed for both of his team’s touchdowns and a game-high 144 yards, putting him over 4,000 rushing yards for his career. “I love those guys, and I miss them. We all grieved together last year, and now we’re celebrating for them.”
Oakridge led Montague in their 2018 meeting 24-10 with 3:45 remaining, when the Wildcats roared back with two touchdown passes and then a game-winning, 2-point conversion run by Sebastian Archer with no time on the clock for a 25-24 win.
It was the type of gut-wrenching loss which is hard to shake off.
“It’s a helpless feeling,” said Oakridge senior nose guard and offensive tackle Will Scraver. “The only thing you can do is try to forget and focus on the next game.”
Unfortunately, less than one month later, Oakridge would experience an even more bitter defeat. The Eagles’ second loss had finality as it came in the MHSAA District championship game, as they squandered a seemingly safe 35-8 halftime lead in a stunning 40-37 loss to Hudsonville Unity Christian. Adding salt to the wound was having to sit home and watch Unity then roll over its next three opponents en route to the Division 5 championship.
“Sometimes it’s hard to put those losses behind when you have umpteen people coming up to you at the store or the gas station asking you what the heck happened,” said Harger, who is in his ninth year as the Oakridge coach after serving for 16 years under Jack Schugars, the all-time winningest coach in Muskegon-area football history.
“All we can do, as coaches and players, is to learn from our mistakes and to take care of all the little things so that we win those kind of games.”
Oakridge, 5-0 and now No. 1 in Division 5 in the latest Associated Press poll, has been focused and motivated this fall – starting with a tough road test at Belding and most recently with the big revenge win at Montague.
Oakridge and Montague were scoreless through three quarters and tied, 7-7, after regulation. Quinn scored from three yards out in overtime, then added what proved to be the game-winning 2-point conversion run. Montague answered with a 10-yard pass from Drew Collins to Brennan Schwarz, but Nate Fair and Corey Vanderputte stuffed the 2-point conversion attempt.
Quinn, a 6-foot-1, 233-pound battering ram, has led the way with 465 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He now has 4,065 career rushing yards, eclipsing David Nelson’s previous school record, and needs five more rushing TDs to pass Jamie Potts for that school mark.
Quinn’s play thus far has been no surprise, but how quickly others have stepped up in the backfield and on the line is the reason why Oakridge is back to No. 1 in the state.
Junior quarterback Ethen Dailey (5-11, 145) has done a solid job managing the Eagles’ offense, and speedy sophomore Vanderputte has emerged as the breakaway threat.
But it was the play of the offensive line, where Fair is the only returning starter, that keyed the win at Montague.
Oakridge, which lined up in a double tight end, full-house backfield look most of the game and threw only two passes (completing none), finished with a 222-70 edge in rushing yards.
“With the tradition out here, there are always new players ready to step up,” said Fair, who also starts at inside linebacker. “We might not have a lot of big names on the line, but we knew we were going to be good.”
Four of the Eagles’ five interior linemen are seniors, with the lone exception sophomore center Derek Driscoll. The guards are seniors Josh Havermans and Jason Pego and the tackles are Fair and Scraver. Starting at tight end are junior Luke Martin and sophomore Ethan Josza.
Harger is not ready to start talking about avenging last year’s playoff loss, as his team still has tough games remaining at North Muskegon in Week 7 and the final two weeks of the regular season at home against Ravenna and first-time opponent Traverse City St. Francis.
Oakridge could also have a couple of new playoff challenges close to home. While the Eagles appear a lock to be in Division 5, they may be joined by resurgent neighbor Muskegon Orchard View (on the bubble of Division 4 and 5) and Montague (on the Division 5 and 6 bubble).
“Our motto this year is: ‘Exceed Expectations’ and, considering the group we lost last year, these guys have done that so far,” said Harger, who is 75-16 and has made the playoffs in each of his first eight years as head coach.
“This is not a real rah-rah group of kids. I think they just love to play football and with the way last year ended, they are thankful for the opportunity to come out and play again.”
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) The Oakridge sideline celebrates late in the Eagles' 15-13 overtime win at Montague. (Middle) Oakridge senior Leroy Quinn, who became the school's all-time leading career rusher earlier this season, runs through a big hole into the end zone for a touchdown. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)
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.)