DETROIT – That was the motto of Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s football team this season.
And the Warriors had to believe it in order for Friday’s dream finish to become possible.
Brother Rice qualified for the Division 2 playoffs at 5-4 last month and after finishing just fourth in the Detroit Catholic League Central. But riding the legs of senior running back Devin Church, the Warriors finished this season with a 24-14 win over Lowell at Ford Field to earn their seventh MHSAA championship and first since 2005.
Church, who ran for more than 900 yards during the playoffs, piled up 244 and three touchdowns rushing in the Final.
“We did it to make Coach proud,” Church said. “We kept the tradition going.
“That’s everybody’s dream, to win a state title. To walk away with a ring, that’s a blessing.”
“Coach” is Al Fracassa, who finished his 43rd season by winning his 405th high school game. But this run provided a new experience for the longtime leader.
Playing in a conference that also includes Division 1 finalist Detroit Catholic Central, Division 3 finalist Orchard Lake St. Mary and playoff qualifier Warren DeLaSalle, the Warriors lost three league games by a combined four points. Brother Rice (10-4) picked up its fourth loss in Week 8 against Cincinnati LaSalle.
But wins over strong teams – Detroit Martin Luther King and Ann Arbor Pioneer among them – likely gave Brother Rice the playoff points boost it needed to get into the postseason.
“We were worried about making the playoffs again. You get down, but the kids, they taught me a lesson. They came out and they worked their tails off,” Fracassa said. “We had a motto before our season started. … Anything is possible. This motto really personifies this football team. Anything is possible, and they’re going to remember it the rest of their lives.”
Church – who will sign with Northern Illinois in February – ran the ball 33 times. His yards were the sixth-most in an MHSAA Final ever. And they were followed by some flattering comparisons from Lowell coach Noel Dean.
“I don’t want to belittle their team by making it about one player; they have a great team,” Dean said. “(Church) is a fantastic football player. One of the better ones I’ve seen. And I’ve coached against some pretty good running backs in my day. The Grady brothers and the Ducketts, I’ve seen some pretty good ones. He’s fantastic.”
Fracassa added: “He’s done that all year, for the last three years. This is not only his good game he played. He’s played good in every game he’s played.”
And while Church ran wild, the Warriors were able to contain Lowell all-state quarterback Gabe Dean, who was making his third straight appearance in the Division 2 Final. A senior now, he led the Red Arrows to a championship game win in 2009
Dean did throw for 190 yards and two touchdowns, but was able to get free for just 34 yards on the ground as Lowell (12-2) attempted to catch up, and catch Church, most of the afternoon.
“The veer offense, we learned how to shut it down this week in practice. And we did a great job in the game,” Brother Rice junior linebacker Jon Reschke said. “We got them out of the veer and into a shotgun formation, the spread offense, which they didn't want to be in, which helped us.”
Senior linebacker Mark Doman had a team-high 13 tackles for Brother Rice, and Reschke had 10. Junior linebacker Reed Stormzand had 20 to lead Lowell, followed by sophomore linebackers Garrett Stehley and Jake Stehley with 14 and 12, respectively.
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.)