By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
This season’s “Drive for Detroit” is in its final stretch as 32 teams prepare to play in 11-Player Semifinals on Saturday.
Of those 32, only 11 made it this far a year ago – and we’re guaranteed at least three new champions next week at Ford Field.
As always, we encourage you to bundle up and grab a seat in the stands. But if you’d rather watch from the comforts of home, this weekend we again will have all 16 Semifinals available, either on FOXSportsDetroit.com or MHSAA.tv. (Click for the full schedule.)
All games are 1 p.m. Saturday. “Drive for Detroit” is powered by MI Student Aid
Clarkston (10-2) vs. Saline (11-1) at Okemos
The reigning Division 1 champion Wolves have given up a combined 13 points over three playoff games, and 6-foot-5, 270-pound sophomore Rocco Spindler is among the leading tacklers with 76 from his defensive tackle spot. Saline has been similarly stifling giving up 26 points total in its playoff wins and has a reliable runner in senior Brendan Munday (1,160 yards/ 14 TDs rushing).
Belleville (12-0) vs. Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (12-0) at Troy Athens
Belleville built on its second straight perfect regular season by making the Semifinals for the first time with a sophomore, Christian Dhue-Reid, running the show at quarterback. Chippewa Valley’s first Semifinal run since 2003 has been keyed in part by senior signal-caller Tommy Schuster (1,480 yards/21 TDs passing).
Midland (9-3) vs. Muskegon Mona Shores (11-1) at Grand Ledge
Mona Shores’ only loss this fall came to Division 3 contender Muskegon, and senior running back/linebacker Sincere Dent (1,228 yards/24 TDs rushing, 8.8 yards per carry) is among the standouts leading the way. Senior running back/linebacker Christian Gordon (1,408/20/7.2) provides similar impact for Midland.
Birmingham Groves (10-2) vs. Warren DeLaSalle (10-2) at Hazel Park
Junior quarterback Markis Alexander (1,337 yards/13 TDs passing) has Groves on a 10-game winning streak and playing its second Semifinal in three seasons. Reigning Division 2 champion Warren DeLaSalle has locked down its three playoff opponents to a combined 20 points. Senior Evan Vaillancourt scored in last year’s Final and leads the team with 576 yards and 12 TDs rushing.
Zeeland East (11-1) vs. Muskegon (12-0) at Grand Haven
The reigning Division 3 champion Big Reds have marched again with junior quarterback Cameron Martinez (2,177 yards/33 TDs rushing, 610 yards/11 TDs passing) taking over where last year’s star La’Darius Jefferson left off. But Zeeland East hardly can be overlooked; the Chix are playing in their first Semifinal since 1989 (which was prior to the opening of Zeeland West) and with their only loss by four to reigning Division 4 champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central. Senior quarterback Gabe Taylor and senior running back Joshua Fusco have combined to run for 3,162 yards.
Detroit Martin Luther King (10-2) vs. DeWitt (12-0) at Brighton
King senior quarterback Dequan Finn is considered one of the state’s most unstoppable with 1,086 yards and 19 touchdowns rushing and 1,787 yards and 20 TDs passing. The Crusaders are playing in their fourth straight Semifinal, with the last three in Division 2. DeWitt emerged from its third straight Regional Final to make the Semifinals for the first time since 2013. Senior quarterback Blake Gatfield has thrown for 1,226 yards and 14 scores and is the team’s second-leading rusher with 503 yards plus 12 scores.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-1) vs. Edwardsburg (12-0) at Vicksburg
This is a rematch of last season’s championship game, won by GRCC 42-31. Edwardsburg will look to avenge with senior fullback Caden Goggins (1,185 yards/20 TDs rushing) pacing the Eddies’ powerful run-based attack. Many names are different for GRCC, which has lost only to Division 1 contender Saline. Senior quarterback Joe Collins has stepped in with 2,215 yards and 27 touchdowns through the air.
Chelsea (9-3) vs. Williamston (10-2) at Walled Lake Northern
Both have navigated some close ones this run, with Chelsea winning two playoff games by seven points apiece and Williamston with one seven-pointer. Chelsea is back in the Semifinals for the first time since 2015, with senior quarterback Quinn Starkey throwing for 2,091 yards and 22 touchdowns. Williamston is returning to the Semifinals for the first time since 2010. Hornets senior quarterback Austin Stiffler has been nearly identically effective, throwing for 2,181 yards and 22 scores.
Hudsonville Unity Christian (10-2) vs. Saginaw Swan Valley (12-0) at Greenville
Last year’s Division 5 runner-up Swan Valley is coming off its closest game this season, a 36-28 win over Reed City, a win which also was its first decided by single digits since Week 1. Senior quarterback Alex Fries ran the show last season as well, and he’s thrown for 1,547 yards and 22 touchdowns. Unity Christian is playing for its first trip to the Finals and relies on a rushing attack that’s gained more than 3,700 yards. Junior Hayden Large has gained 1,143 of them and run for 12 scores.
Marine City (10-2) vs. Portland (12-0) at Howell
Portland’s strength has been a defense giving up 7.7 points per game, but the Raiders are also coming off one of their highest-scoring outputs in a 40-6 win over Frankenmuth in the Regional Final. Senior Jacob Veale leads the strong ground attack with 1,505 yards and 24 touchdowns. Marine City chews up yards on the ground as well with junior Aren Sopfe (1,087 yards/14 TDs) and senior Jack Kretzschmar (901/11) carrying the load. The Mariners have had two of their four highest-scoring games over the last two weeks.
Montague (10-2) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (12-0) at Mount Pleasant
These two have combined for an 82-11 record over the last four seasons, and both are seeking to make the Finals for the first time since 2009. Senior Bryce Stark has shouldered much of the rushing load for Montague with 1,422 yards and 24 touchdowns. Senior Danny Passinault leads a similarly strong run attack for the Gladiators with 1,201 yards and 18 scores.
Montrose (10-2) vs. Jackson Lumen Christi (11-0) at Novi
The Rams are seeking to reach their first championship game since 2002 and will take on the reigning Division 6 champion Titans with a balanced attack led by senior Devante Bedford (1,617 yards/26 TDs rushing) and sophomore quarterback Bobby Skinner (1,431/20 passing). Lumen Christi still does what it’s done to win the last two championships and three over the last decade – combine tough defense with a dominating rush attack, led this season by senior Nick Thomas (1,634 yards/29 TDs).
New Lothrop (11-1) vs. Lake City (12-0) at Clare
Fresh off eliminating two-time Division 7 champion Pewamo-Westphalia, New Lothrop takes on another undefeated contender in Lake City. Junior quarterback Avery Moore is dangerous in multiple ways with 1,375 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing and 1,452 yards and 20 more scores passing for the Hornets. Lake City, which fell to P-W in a Semifinal a year ago, has already outscored last year’s team and is giving up half as many points through just one fewer game. Lake City also has a multi-talented quarterback – senior Matt Holt has run for 1,496 yards and 18 scores and thrown for 1,550 yards and 17 TDs.
Cassopolis (12-0) vs. Madison Heights Madison (12-0) at Jackson
One of the state’s most impressive defenses from Cassopolis will take on a high-flying offense from Madison. The Rangers are outscoring opponents by an average of 46-4, with senior running back Tyrese Hunt-Thompson the team’s leading rusher (859 yards/19 TDs) and receiver (314/6). Madison’s average margin of victory is a little less at 39-9 but has come mostly against much larger schools. Senior quarterback Austin Brown has thrown for 1,766 yards and 21 scores and run for 1,696/29.
Breckenridge (12-0) vs. Harbor Beach (11-1) at Chesaning
The Huskies have stretched their best season ever to their first Semifinal with a stalwart defense giving up four points per game. Senior dual threat quarterback Carter Staley leads with 926 yards and 10 touchdowns passing and also a team-best 882 yards rushing with 12 scores on the ground. Harbor Beach is back in the Semifinals for the fourth time this decade coming off its third shutout in five weeks. Junior running back/linebacker Devin Pfaff is key on both sides of the ball, rushing for a team-high 1,234 yards and 20 scores.
Holton (8-4) vs. Reading (12-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek
Holton’s memorable run began after the team lost its last three regular-season games but made the playoffs as an additional qualifier. After reaching the postseason for the first time since 2007, the Red Devils have won their first District and Regional titles. Senior Aaron Herron has run for 1,548 yards and 19 touchdowns. Next up is Reading, coming off its sixth shutout of the season and averaging 50 points per game. Senior fullback Ethan LoPresto is tough to bring down; he’s averaging 12.6 yards per carry with 2,209 plus 26 TDs total on the ground.
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PHOTO: Portland's offense lines up during last week's Division 5 Regional Final win over Frankenmuth. (Click to see more 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.)