DETROIT – Belleville’s football team found Ford Field after a series of near-misses in recent seasons. The Tigers found it much to their liking, too.
Belleville put its speed, athleticism and depth of talent on full display in a 55-33 runaway victory over Rochester Adams in the MHSAA Division 1 title game Saturday. The fast track and climate-controlled environment were ideal for the Tigers in their first-ever Finals appearance.
Freshman quarterback Bryce Underwood passed for 284 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions, three of the scores to senior Jeremiah Caldwell as the Tigers (13-1) came within a point of tying a record for most scored in a Finals game.
“You get a bunch of athletes on a fast track and without the elements, you know, it was going to be some opportunities for Bryce …,” said Belleville coach Jermain Crowell, the former Detroit Cass Tech assistant, who is now 72-10 in seven years with the Tigers program.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Underwood, who is only 14 years old, finished 12-of-21 passing. He capped Belleville’s scoring with a 30-yard run in the fourth quarter when he delivered a forceful stiff-arm in the backfield to a would-be tackler.
The 6-3, 175-pound Caldwell was on the receiving end of only four passes, but the playmaker converted them into a whopping 204 yards. Underwood connected with the lanky, speedy senior on scoring strikes of 56, 64 and 72 yards, all in the first half, as Belleville entered the locker room with a 21-20 edge.
“I would say I wasn’t that nervous, I just knew that I had to come out and execute our plan and finish the football game,” Underwood said.
Belleville took control in the third quarter, when the Tigers converted two Adams turnovers into touchdowns – one on a blocked punt and the other on a fumble recovery. They led 35-20 entering the fourth quarter, and that margin never dipped below 14 points the rest of the way.
Six different players scored TDs for Belleville, illustrating Crowell’s point in the postgame press conference that it was a team effort. The Tigers had no turnovers.
“It was the team. I mean, to be honest with you, it was the team,” said Crowell, whose squads lost semifinal heartbreakers to eventual 2020 state champ West Bloomfield (35-34 in double-overtime) and Brighton in 2019 (22-19). The Tigers also lost in the 2018 semifinals to eventual state champ Clinton Township Chippewa Valley.
“All the other years, it was always about this individual guy, that individual guy, that individual guy, and it’s not high school football. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be that way.”
Even though Belleville’s defense surrendered 33 points, the Tigers made enough plays on that side of the ball and they did it with several players contributing.
Seniors Cameron Dyson and JaShawn Greene led Belleville’s defense with eight tackles apiece. Greene also had a forced fumble and sack, while Caldwell picked off a pass.
As much as Crowell stressed “team,” it was hard to ignore the individual talents of Underwood and Caldwell.
“I feel like it’s amazing because he’s so young,” Caldwell said about Underwood. “Once he gets to my age as a senior, it’s going to be, like, ‘Wow!’ Like, he’s doing this as a freshman now, so when he becomes a senior, it’s going to be mind-boggling.”
Said Adams coach Tony Patritto about Underwood: “His resume was pretty strong before he even got to Belleville. He can really sling it and, you know, his receivers made some big plays and a lot of yards after the catch. A lot of that’s on us.”
Adams (13-1), which went unscathed through the rugged Oakland Activities Association as well as a challenging playoff road, made some plays on Saturday, too.
Senior QB Parker Picot completed 8 of 21 passes for three TDs, four of his completions going to 6-6, 215-pound sophomore Brady Prieskorn for 117 yards and two scores.
Like Underwood, Picot was recognized at a young age for his athletic talents. He committed to University of Alabama for baseball as a freshman, but he also poured everything he had into this football season.
“Well, when it’s football season, it’s football season and this year we definitely had something special,” Picot said. “All of us players were all, you know, some of the best friends. At the start, every day (of) summer workouts, we knew we had something special and it was going to be really fun this year and I think we really held onto (it).”
Adams was seeking its first state title since 2003, which was Patritto’s first season at the helm, when the Highlanders captured the Division 2 championship.
On Saturday, it was Belleville’s time.
“I mean, it means a lot, especially to the community of Belleville,” said Caldwell, whose receiving TDs and receiving yards ties him for second in both categories in Finals history.
“It’s a new Belleville this year, so everything that happened in the past years was not happening this year. We all came together and made a change as a whole.”
PHOTOS (Top) Belleville’s Jeremiah Caldwell (2) prepares to make his move as Rochester Adams’ Marco Dicresce (4) looks to make a stop. (Middle) The Tigers’ Davieon Pitchford (20) attempts to run past Adams’ Parker Picot (11). (Photos by 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 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.)