CLARKSTON – Coach Kurt Richardson held a disdain for kickers. He didn’t trust them. He contends that a poor kicking game cost his Clarkston football team the 2000 Division 1 Semifinal, a 17-15 loss to eventual champion Grand Ledge.
Three years before, Clarkston had lost one-point games to Rochester (20-19) and Troy (21-20) that cost the Wolves an opportunity to play in the playoffs. Again, the kicking game had let him down.
“We didn’t have kickers,” Richardson said. “We made kickers. We tried a soccer player once back then, and it didn’t work.”
Enter the Breen brothers, Andrew and Ryan. Andrew Breen was Clarkston’s kicker in 2003. Ryan Breen followed and was the kicker in 2005 and 2006. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but Clarkston hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2002. You won’t get Richardson to say that.
Andrew Breen went on to kick for Tiffin University (Ohio), and every place-kicker since has gone on to college as a kicker – including his brother, Ryan, who went to Penn State.
The others include Alex Barta, who went on to kick for the U.S. Naval Academy. Then there’s Shane Hynes, the place-kicker on the 2013 Division 1 championship team, who is currently Kent State’s place-kicker. Alex Kessman was the place-kicker on the 2014 Division 1 title team, and he’s at Pittsburgh after graduating from high school this past June.
Zach Mansour is Clarkston’s place-kicker this season. And although he hasn’t decided what college he will attend next year, rest assured Mansour will be on a roster somewhere, whether it’s at the Division I level or below.
“Andrew kind of broke up the ice,” Richardson said. “It’s made a big difference. What also comes out of making field goals and having good kickers is now we’re kicking the ball in the end zone and teams are starting from their 20.”
Ryan Breen doesn’t remember exactly when it happened, but his life changed when he was a freshman at Clarkston High.
Breen and his brother were soccer players throughout their childhood. Then his freshman year his brother was a senior and Clarkston’s kicker, and something clicked. Ryan was just having fun working with his brother, shagging footballs, when he got the urge to try it.
Something clicked for the Clarkston football program as well.
“Coach Kurt realized, after a while, that kicking is so much part of the game,” Ryan Breen said. “He started to trust me my junior and senior years. He’d been let down so much (by kickers). It’s frustrating.
“It opened his eyes that (Clarkston’s) kicking game could be so good.”
Ryan gives credit to his brother for starting what has become a fraternity of kickers at Clarkston. And it continues today with Ryan Breen giving back – or paying it forward, if you will.
Clarkston is a sports-crazed community with football and basketball taking the lead. The fan support these teams receive is as fervent as any in the Detroit area. When an athlete experiences success at a school like this, often that person is motivated to give back. That’s what Breen has done.
“My brother kind of got me into it,” Ryan said. “We were athletes first. My freshman year I’d help him, chasing the footballs after he kicked them. I figured I’d do it for him. I never thought I’d kick. We never thought we’d kick.”
At first, his experience in college led Ryan to go back to Clarkston and share his expertise with the next kicker in line, Barta.
“I got with Alex and his dad,” Ryan said. “I tried to lend the knowledge I had.”
After coaching as a volunteer, Ryan came on staff at the junior varsity level for three seasons. He was there to start this season, but was forced to leave due to the time commitment he had with his business in Oakland County. He’s hoping that soon, perhaps in a year or so, his business will become less demanding and he’ll return to Richardson’s staff.
But he’s left his mark, and others have picked up his lead. Those who have followed, like Mansour, are reaping the benefits.
Mansour handles the place kicking and kickoff duties for Richardson, and he’s 5 of 7 on field goal tries with a long make of 45 yards. A junior, Jermaine Roemer, is the punter and, at this point, it appears he will replace Mansour as the team’s place-kicker next season.
“I was close with Shane (Hynes) and Alex (Kessman),” Mansour said. “I got a ton of knowledge from them. And Shane learned from Barta. I’m close with Jermaine. And Tristan Mattson is on (junior varsity). I’ll be working with him after the season.
“We’ve gotten so good with our kicking. It puts us ahead of other teams. When I worked with Shane and Alex, they were brutally honest. They’ll break you down. They yelled at me. It’s not to hurt your feelings. It’s all for the game.
“Paying it forward? It’s kind of my job. Jermaine and I developed a good relationship. We’ve had that reputation of having good kickers, and we want to keep it that 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 email@example.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Zach Mansour kicks off Clarkston's season against Lapeer on Aug. 26 at Michigan Stadium. (Middle) Shane Hynes follows through on a kick during the 2013 Division 1 Final at Ford Field. (Click to see more of top photo from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)