Clarkston Kicker Grabs QB Opportunity

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

October 13, 2015

CLARKSTON – This season seemed to be going from bad to worse for Clarkston.

The Wolves were blitzed by Macomb Dakota, 35-10, in the opener and in their third game were tied 14-14 with West Bloomfield when starting quarterback Anthony Reiner suffered a broken hand.

The two-time defending Division 1 champion went on to lose that game, 35-21, to fall to 1-2.

As poorly as Clarkston started the season, its fortunes changed. Alex Kessman, a senior who will in all likelihood be a place kicker at a Division I college next season, got an opportunity he really didn’t expect.

Kessman hadn’t played quarterback since the ninth grade, when he led Clarkston’s freshmen team to an undefeated season. When Reiner went out last month, coach Kurt Richardson went to Kessman – and he’s responded as if he was an experienced quarterback.

Kessman couldn’t rescue Clarkston against West Bloomfield, but the Wolves are 4-0 since with Kessman as the starter. He’s thrown seven touchdown passes including three in a 28-0 over Troy Athens.

If Kessman wasn’t such a fine place kicker and punter he likely would have started the season at quarterback. Instead he was in the secondary, kicked and was Reiner’s backup.

“We wanted to groom (Kessman) during the summer but he was always at kicking camps,” Richardson said. “The other guy was working real hard and we went with (Reiner).

“When Anthony got hurt it was a natural thing. I told him he was our best quarterback. At first it didn’t come quick. He’s gotten better every week. He’s got a very strong arm. We still run the same offense. We’re throwing more (with Kessman).”

Kessman no longer plays defense but he is still kicking, and kicking well. He kicked a 56-yard field goal against Dakota and has since kicked one from 53 yards out.

Kessman made his third visit to University of Pittsburgh last weekend and said the Panthers are at the top of his college list at this point. Mississippi State has offered Kessman preferred walk-on status and other schools such as Michigan, Florida and Tennessee also are in the mix.

Physically, Kessman is not your typical kicker. He’s 6-3 and weighs 185 pounds. He played basketball until his sophomore year, when he decided to concentrate on his kicking.

Kessman started playing football in the seventh grade and was a kicker even back then. As a sophomore he played safety and kicked as a member of the junior varsity. Last season Kessman was the punter and place kicker on varsity but did not play defense.

Now he’s showing he’s more than just a kicker, at least at this level.

“I wasn’t really rusty,” he said. “I was prepared if Anthony went down. I didn’t practice a lot (at quarterback). I threw occasionally. The first couple of plays I was nervous. I got comfortable. It was at halftime of the West Bloomfield game. Thanks to my teammates I have no trouble getting comfortable now.”

As one would guess, one of his biggest challenges was learning an extensive playbook. Richardson’s quarterbacks have much responsibility making proper decisions on read option plays and checking down on second and third receivers.

“I know the ins and outs now,” Kessman said. “That comes from off-the-field stuff. I put a lot of time in on my own. The toughest part is reading the corners and reading the safeties.”

Clarkston is averaging 40 points a game in Kessman’s four starts but it would be unfair to give him all the credit. The five offensive linemen who started in last season’s MHSAA Final graduated, and Clarkston is starting three underclassmen up front including two sophomores. The line struggled early on, but is playing much better now.

Then there’s Nolan Eriksen, a senior running back. Eriksen suffered a high ankle sprain in Clarkston’s inter-squad game during the preseason and made his season debut against Troy Athens. He scored four touchdowns in last week’s 42-0 victory over Troy.

“Eriksen is obviously fantastic,” Kessman said. “I know when I hand it off to him he’ll get at least five yards or take it all the way.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at tmarkowski@statechampsnetwork.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Clarkston’s Alex Kessman lines up for a punt during last season’s Division 1 Final at Ford Field (Middle) Kessman signals before another punt. (Below) Kessman is considered a Division I college prospect as a kicker.

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“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.

John GuilleanGuillean 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.”

Great anticipation

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.

Derek GriblerGribler 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 ShebestPam 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 pamkzoo@aol.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.)