By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
Muskegon High School’s offensive line sustained some BIG losses after last season.
Four of the starting five offensive linemen from that MHSAA Division 3 runner-up team, totaling 1,245 pounds in weight – and including 6-foot-5, 360-pound right tackle Anthony Bradford, who is now playing at Louisiana State University – are gone.
The lone returning starter is senior center D’Andre Mills-Ellis, which makes it all the more impressive the way the Big Reds dominated two-time reigning Division 2 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate, 41-7, during Friday’s Xenith Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State University.
“All summer long, we were hearing that we weren’t going to be anything with all of the big boys gone,” said Mills-Ellis, who is certainly a big boy himself at 6-0 and 305 pounds. “We’re not as big, but we’re more athletic.”
Mills-Ellis and the young Big Reds’ linemen certainly made a statement Friday, posting a 285-94 edge in rushing yards against the Pilots, who feature 6-7, 320-pound senior two-way lineman Grant Toutant, an Ohio State commit.
Muskegon (1-0) has no time to sit back and enjoy its big season-opening win, as the Big Reds face another long road trip and another monumental challenge this Friday night at Detroit Martin Luther King (0-1) – a rematch of last year’s Division 3 championship game, which King won, 41-25.
The Big Reds will be out for revenge, led by senior quarterback and returning MLive Michigan Player of the Year Cameron Martinez (6-0, 190), who also has verbally committed to Ohio State. Martinez carried the ball 21 times for 184 yards and three touchdowns against De La Salle, while completing 6-of-11 passes for 57 yards.
Martinez is the latest of an incredible stretch of quarterbacks at Muskegon – most recently bolstered by Kalil Pimpleton, now a starting slot receiver at Central Michigan, and then La’Darius Jefferson, now a major contributor at running back at Michigan State.
“We’ve been blessed with great quarterbacks here lately, but it all starts with D’Andre getting the ball to them,” said 10th-year Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield, who has guided the Big Reds to MHSAA Finals six times in the past seven years and led them to the Division 3 title in 2017.
Mills-Ellis said it’s an honor to block for such talented runners.
“The thing is, you don’t have to get pancakes with backs like that,” said Mills-Ellis, a college prospect who currently has offers from Judson (Ill.) and Northwood and wants to major in biology. “All those guys need is a little bit of room and they’re gonna go.”
The center always plays a critical role on the offensive line, getting to the ball first, surveying the defense and making sure that everyone up front knows their assignments. Mills-Ellis is used to that job, but he has become much more vocal in it with two sophomores and one junior starting alongside him.
The only other senior up front for the Big Reds is left tackle Billie Roberts (6-3, 255), a converted tight end who Muskegon offensive line coach Matt Bolles says has Division I skills. Starting next to Roberts is junior guard Tayvid Elmore (5-11, 280), while the right side has a pair of sophomores in guard Jamarrius Dickerson (5-10, 295) and tackle Duane Anderson (6-1, 285).
“It’s different for him this year because now he’s our rock, our leader up there,” explained Fairfield. “He’s always kinda been the comedian, but he’s had to scale that back a little, so that when it’s time to get serious the other guys will listen to him.”
The senior is known for his steady snaps, as the Big Reds line up almost exclusively in the pistol formation, with Mills-Ellis initiating every play with a quick snap back to Martinez. While his center is pretty much automatic these days, Muskegon offensive coordinator Brent White said that wasn’t always true.
“We converted him from tackle, and he was a little rocky with his snaps at first,” said White, who gave credit for his improvement to snapping to Jefferson, who is nicknamed ‘Sippy’ because he’s from Mississippi. “Sippy didn’t like bad snaps and he had a way of letting him know that, so he got better in a hurry.”
Mills-Ellis, who is one of the strongest players in West Michigan with a squat of 675 pounds, is also starting for the first time this season at defensive tackle.
Fairfield said during the preseason that he believes his team will be much improved on defense, and it certainly appeared that way in the opener as tackles Mills-Ellis and Roberts completely stuffed any interior running plays.
Muskegon limited De La Salle to just one touchdown, but a bigger defensive challenge awaits this week against a Detroit King team packed with Division I prospects – notably battering-ram running back Peny Boone (committed to Maryland), receiver Rashawn Williams (Indiana) and freshman quarterback Dante Moore, who already has an offer from Michigan.
King shredded Muskegon through the air and on the ground in November’s championship game at Ford Field, but Mills-Ellis said the Big Reds are determined to not let that happen again.
“We couldn’t overlook De La Salle, because they have a great program, but deep down inside, the game we all want and that we’ve been talking about all summer is King,” said Mills-Ellis. “You have to understand, us seniors here aren’t used to losing. This is our chance to make up for that loss.”
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 email@example.com with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon center D'Andre Mills-Ellis throws the key lead block as quarterback Cameron Martinez scores a touchdown during the Big Reds' 45-22 Division 3 Semifinal victory over Zeeland East last season at Grand Haven High School. (Middle) Mills-Ellis talks to Muskegon offensive line coach Matt Bolles during last year's Division 3 championship game at Ford Field. (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 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.)