Constantine Comeback Gets Running Start

By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com

September 6, 2018

Shawn Griffith is fully aware of the fact he’s now coached fathers and sons, uncles and nephews during his tenure at Constantine High School.

That doesn’t make him old, he says; it just means he’s “seasoned.”

It also means he’s now been around long enough to experience both the highs and lows of coaching. Traditionally one of the state’s small-school powerhouses, Constantine lost its way in 2017 with a 3-6 record — Griffith’s first losing season since taking over the program in 2007 and the school’s first sub-.500 season in 26 years.

With a pair of Division 6 championship game appearances (2011 and 2012) and a 114-36 overall record to his credit, last autumn’s fall from grace, though somewhat expected, he said, was a reminder that high school sports still have a cyclical nature.

Attrition, inexperience, lower participation numbers, defensive struggles and fractured team chemistry all attributed to the disappointing season. Still, the Falcons were four points away from five wins, which likely would have been enough to qualify for the playoffs. With a 5-4 regular-season record back in 2013, Constantine went on to advance to the Regional Finals, underscoring Griffith’s mantra of improving each week and what can be accomplished by doing so.

“We knew last year we were going to go through some growing pains,” Griffith said. “I think the 3-6 thing really helped these guys focus in the offseason, and they have done a great job coming together.”

Now the Falcons, 2-0 this year after blowout victories against Gobles (56-0) and Quincy (42-7), are out to reclaim their seat at the table, with expectations just as high as they’ve always been. A few players only need to look at their family trees to be reminded of what’s possible.

Senior fullback Brendon Schragg in particular has a bloodline that traces back to the most memorable year in Constantine football history, as his uncles literally carried the Falcons to their only MHSAA football championship.

With Griffith then serving as offensive coordinator in 2004 — just the second season after he transitioned the offense from an I-Formation to the Wing-T — senior twins Jim and Mike Schragg lined up in the backfield for the Falcons and combined for nearly 3,800 rushing yards, fueling the team’s title run and 13-1 record.

Mike Schragg, a tailback, rushed for more than 100 yards in the championship game against Suttons Bay, a 34-13 Constantine victory. But it was fullback Jim Schragg’s legendary effort that put him atop the MHSAA record book list for yards in a Final after he went for 307, including an 89-yard run.

“We were loaded with backs,” Jim Schragg said. “It’s a fun offense to run. Some parents get ticked off that we don’t throw it enough, but you have three bad things that can happen with a pass and not too many bad things can happen with a run.

“It’s cool to have your name there with the record and all that. But the state championship is more important to me than the record and running for over 300 yards. The state finals was the whole goal for our senior class. It was state championship or bust. That was what every single kid played for on that team.”

Some things haven’t changed. Though going from a three-win season to a state title is extremely unlikely, Brendon Schragg and his teammates believe they can put together a pretty special year.

“They were superstars to me,” Schragg, who rushed for 575 yards and five touchdowns as a junior, said of his uncles. “I always had the dream that if you go to state, I want to go to state. That’s been a goal since I was 4 years old.

“In my opinion, come Week 5 when we start our (Southwestern Athletic Conference) games, I think we are going to come out and compete. There isn’t a doubt in my mind we can’t win a league title. I ask myself a question every day, ‘Why not us?’”

Brendon Schragg is a three-year starter and one of three returning backs this season. The Falcons haven’t needed complete games out of the trio in the victories so far this year, but Schragg has 145 yards and two TDs on 14 carries. He and teammates Hunter Lindbert and Josh Lawson will probably split the load the rest of the season. Lindbert has compiled 188 yards and 4 TDs on 14 carries, and Lawson has 235 yards and two TDs on 18 carries.

Of course, none of it would be possible without the big guys up front.

“We’re just more physical in the trenches this year,” Schragg said of linemen such as Trenton Stears, Marquise Wykle, Matt Hutton and Austin Loose. “Hutton, our center, both his uncles played on the state championship team, believe it or not.”

Part of Griffith’s job is to both encourage his players to shoot for the moon and to make sure they also have their feet firmly planted on the ground. He certainly understands there are challenges ahead with teams like Kalamazoo United, Watervliet and Schoolcraft.

“We look a lot better,” he said. “But we’re certainly not naïve; we see some pretty darn good football teams on our schedule here coming up. I think our guys have done a real good job of not blowing this out of proportion. It is what it is; it’s a good start. They have done a good job of concentrating and preparing week to week.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at wmorgan@joeinsider.com with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Constantine defensive players motion for a turnover during their win over Gobles in Week 1. (Middle) Brendon Schragg, far left, breaks through the Gobles defense. (Photos courtesy of JoeInsider.com.)

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.)