Cole Giesige had a big smile on his face when he went into the Ottawa Lake Whiteford huddle during the fourth quarter of Friday night’s win at Erie Mason.
Giesige normally is a running back for the Bobcats, but he is also the backup quarterback for the team. When Whiteford built a big lead Friday to clinch the outright Tri-County Conference championship, Whiteford head coach Jason Mensing inserted Giesige at quarterback.
On the first play, Mensing called Giesige’s number. He then put his arm around the 6-foot-1 senior and called the play.
“He said, ‘You are two yards away from 1,000. Do you want to get it on this play?’ Giesige recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ I was smiling when I went into the huddle.”
Giesige kept the ball and sliced his way through the Erie Mason defensive line for a six-yard gain. Goal accomplished. It was his final carry of the game, but it was a big one. It gave him 1,004 yards for the season.
“The line said, ‘All right, we’re going to get this for you’ and they did,” Giesige said. “I knew I had 909 coming into the game, but I didn’t know where I was at that point. When coach told me, I just started to smile.”
Reaching 1,000 yards has been a goal for Giesige since he was summoned to the varsity his sophomore season.
“That was one thing I set out to do,” Giesige said. “When I was a sophomore and I knew I was going to be on the varsity, I put goals on my walls, and one of them was 1,000 yards in a season. I’m glad I was finally able to accomplish that.”
Mensing said that after a big JV season as a freshman, Giesige was destined to be a big part of the Whiteford football team for the next three seasons.
“He’s a great kid,” Mensing said. “We knew when he was a sophomore and we brought him up that we were going to be relying on him to make big plays. He’s done a nice job.”
On Friday, Whiteford finished the regular season with an 8-1 record and No. 2 in playoff points in Division 8. The Bobcats are among favorites to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Giesige was in eighth grade when the Bobcats made its best-ever playoff run – winning the 2017 Division 8 championship. Giesige played middle school football for the Bobcats that season, but served a role for the varsity as well – he was on the Whiteford sideline for the Final at Ford Field, charting defensive plays for the coaching staff.
“He’s been a part of the program for a long time,” Mensing said.
The son of Troy and Kim Giesige is also an accomplished baseball and basketball player at Whiteford. He was an all-state pitcher last year for the Bobcats baseball team that reached the Quarterfinals, and he is fielding offers to play the sport after high school. He led the Whiteford basketball team in scoring last winter.
“He is a competitor that has a passion to improve at his craft daily,” Mensing said. “He has high expectations for himself and those around him.”
It’s been an outstanding football season for Giesige. He has done a little bit of everything for the Bobcats.
Heading into Friday’s playoff opener, he has scored 25 touchdowns and converted nine two-point conversions for 168 points. He’s rushed for 18 touchdowns, caught four touchdown passes, returned two kickoffs for scores, and went 100 yards on an interception return in Week 8 against Petersburg Summerfield.
He now holds the record for longest kickoff return (95 yards) and longest interception return (100 yards) in school history. He’s moving up the charts in season and career touchdowns. He averages 9.3 yards per carry and nearly 23 yards per reception. His kickoff return average is 40 yards per attempt.
Mensing said scoring touchdowns isn’t all that he does.
“He is a solid blocker, a good ball catcher and obviously a back with good vision and ability to cut,” the 10th-year Whiteford coach said.
Whiteford has been on a roll of late. The Bobcats enter the postseason on a five-game winning streak and are averaging 52 points per game. During the win streak, they have scored 58, 54, 76, 46 and 62 points.
Giesige is one of just five seniors on the team, but they all play important roles. Two-way tackle Noah Bauman is a two-time all-stater and makes an impact on both sides of the ball. Jack Andrews was a center as a sophomore but was converted to tight end and he has caught four touchdowns this season. Ty Ruddy is a team leader and two-way starter, and linebacker Levi Hillard is among the team’s top tacklers.
Thanks to that core group, the Bobcats are primed and ready to make noise in the playoffs.
“I’m not really certain how it compares to years past as each team and journey is so unique,” Mensing said. “I do know we have a great group of guys that I think want to keep competing together a little longer.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Ottawa Lake Whiteford’s Cole Giesige runs the ball during a win over Petersburg Summerfield this season. (Middle) Giesige (far left) walks with the coaching staff during halftime of Whiteford’s 2017 Division 8 Final at Ford Field. (Top photo by Natalie McCormack; middle photo by Cari Hayes.)
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.)