DETROIT – All Mendon, all the time.
That was the story of Friday morning’s Division 8 Football Final at Ford Field. It’s also the best way to describe the Hornets’ season, which ended with a 33-0 win over Fowler to claim their 11th MHSAA football championship.
After entering the postseason tied for the top spot in The Associated Press’ Division 8 state poll, Mendon took down four other ranked teams on the way to the title – including the No. 9 Eagles, who were making their first Finals appearance since 1998.
The 11 MHSAA titles is tied for third-most with East Grand Rapids, and just two off Farmington Hills Harrison’s record 13. Friday marked Mendon’s first Finals appearance – and championship – since 2007.
“At the beginning of the season, you know you want to be a state champion. But you can’t think like that because you’ve got to take one game at a time. Then you finally get here and you’re in awe,” Mendon senior linebacker Cody Bingaman said. “You don’t know how to react. And then the coaches calm you down and get your nerves settled down, and you just go and play like it’s another game.
“We just looked at it like another game we had to win.”
Mendon junior Tyler Harris opened the scoring with an 84-yard punt return touchdown – second-longest in MHSAA Finals history – just 2:44 into the game.
The game was closer than its 21-0 score seemed to indicate during the first half, but Mendon held Fowler to just 62 yards of offense over the final two quarters.
Harris ran for 92 yards and two more touchdowns, and senior Tanner Cook had 95 and a touchdown on the ground. Senior quarterback Chance Nightingale also ran for a score. Junior linebacker Rodney Arnott and Cody Bingaman each had 12 tackles.
“Someone outside asked me to rank this team with all the teams we’ve had, and I certainly can’t do that. But I can rank the schedule,” said Mendon coach John Schwartz, who has led the Hornets through 23 seasons. “Battling through that 14-game schedule that we had, against some of the teams we played … spread teams, we played teams that like to pound it. This is a well-seasoned football team. They have seen everything, and it showed.”
The Eagles (11-3) were making their first Finals appearance since 1998 and in just their second season under coach Craig Koenigsknecht – who played on Fowler’s 1993 team that won the first of the school’s four MHSAA championships. Fowler is 20-4 over the last two years, and took a number of next steps this fall after entering the playoffs 9-0 in 2010 and then losing in the Pre-District round.
“I’m not saying that these guys were just satisfied by being here. (But) they’ve got to understand the caliber of teams that get to this point, and what we have to do to get ourselves to play that standard of football when it gets this late in the season,” Koenigsknecht said. “Bottom line, if we want to do good things next season, we have to work that much harder in the offseason so we can be quicker off the ball, stay on blocks a little bit better, hit the hole a little bit harder and tackle a little bit better.”
Junior linebacker Tyler Koenigsknecht led the Eagles with 11 tackles.
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.)