DETROIT -- Subtract an injured star linebacker, and what did Zeeland West get?
An inspired performance from his teammates -- and this fall’s MHSAA Division 4 football championship.
Senior Josh Blanton remained on the sideline Friday at Ford Field, unable to contribute because of an injury suffered in last week’s Semifinal.
But his No. 2 Dux teammates rallied, and despite falling behind early came back to run over and past top-ranked Marine City 45-7 in perhaps the most highly-anticipated of the day’s four Finals.
“We knew we were going to have a tough time, and as a team we kinda thought about things,” Zeeland West quarterback Clay Coatney said. “We just said to ourselves, we’re going to come out and play as hard as we could, play as physical as we could.”
Zeeland West finished with its second MHSAA championship, but first 14-0 record in seven seasons as a program. Marine City ended 13-1.
The Dux’ physicality was the difference-maker on both sides of the ball. Marine City’s offense came into the Final averaging nearly 37 points per game. But led by senior linebacker Jake McKellar’s eight tackles and lots of contributors all around him, the Dux held the Mariners to just 216 yards of total offense -- while also dominating the line on offense and gaining 410.
Senior Kyle Kujawa ran for 99 of the team’s 288 rushing yards, and scored once. Coatney was 6 for 9 passing for 122 yards and two scores. Senior Brad Mesbergen responded to the Mariners’ early touchdown by returning the ensuing kickoff an MHSAA Finals-record 97 yards to even the score.
Marine City scored the game’s first touchdown just less than two minutes into the game. But the Mariners, despite multiple drives into Dux territory, gave the ball away one each by fumble and interception and three more times on turnovers on downs.
“We’ve got an all-state linebacker not playing. To say we’re playing that type of explosive offense, (and) for those kids to show up and do what they did, you’ve just gotta go, ‘Holy smokes, who are those guys?’” Zeeland West coach John Shillito said.
Marine City senior Adam Kroll threw 36 yards to senior Gunnar Glodich for that lone Mariners touchdown, and finished 8 of 16 passing for 85 yards total. Senior running back Anthony Scarcelli gained just 42 yards on eight carries in his final high school game before signing with Central Michigan, but did lead the team with eight tackles in what also was the final game for his father and coach, Tony Scarcelli.
"When I look at this season, I don't look at one game," Tony Scarcelli said. "I look at this as we're state runners-up. Twenty years from now, we'll all look back on this and say what a great season it was."
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.)