By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
As we cruise into Week 4 of this high school football season, be ready for a few curveballs and change-ups.
For starters: Something just doesn't feel right about not featuring the latest meetings between Detroit Martin Luther King and Cass Tech and Traverse City West and Central, like we have almost every season since beginning these previews in 2012. But other games from those parts of the state are potentially bigger this time around.
Read on for more on many of the matchups that especially stuck out from this week's schedule. Be sure as well to check out this week's MHSAA.tv schedule featuring 25 games including seven mentioned below.
And because those two games mentioned above are still going to mean a lot, potentially, here are a few quick notes: The King/Cass winner will move to 2-2 and the loser to 1-3, with the teams likely to meet again in the league playoffs and the loser of that rematch very possibly missing the MHSAA postseason. Both got to 1-2 after playing some of the toughest opening competition of any teams statewide. Meanwhile, the West/Central “Patriot Game” will draw more than 10,000 fans downtown tonight, and the winner will be a frontrunner to win the Big North Conference title. West was the champ and Central second last season thanks to West's 21-14 win of the Trojans.
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Bay & Thumb
Frankenmuth (3-0) at Freeland (3-0)
These two have met six times over the last four seasons, four in nonleague contests and twice in the playoffs, with Freeland holding a 4-2 edge. The realigned Tri-Valley Conference East has them both in the same league this fall and as the only unbeaten teams overall after three weeks (Saginaw Swan Valley also is 2-0 in league play, 2-1 overall). Freeland has pulled out a couple of close games this fall against tough opponents, while the Eagles have won all of their games (against a less imposing group) by at least 29 points – but fell to the Falcons in last year’s Week 9 matchup 15-8.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY New Lothrop (3-0) at Montrose (3-0), Davison (3-0) at Flint Powers Catholic (3-0), Richmond (3-0) at Croswell-Lexington (2-1), Alma (1-2) at Saginaw Swan Valley (2-1).
Brighton (3-0) at Plymouth (3-0)
The Wildcats took a nice step last fall after posting sub-.500 records in 2016 and 2017, finishing 6-4. Taking down reigning league champion Brighton to move into first alone in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West would be another jump. Plymouth broke a three-year losing streak against rival Canton with a 15-13 win last week, while the Bulldogs are riding an 11-game regular-season winning streak that includes a 24-7 win over Plymouth last season.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Orchard Lake St. Mary's (3-0) at Walled Lake Western (3-0), Detroit Cass Tech (1-2) at Detroit Martin Luther King (1-2), Birmingham Groves (3-0) at Oak Park (2-1), Clarkston (1-2) at West Bloomfield (2-1), Brownstown Woodhaven (3-0) at Wyandotte Roosevelt (3-0).
DeWitt (2-1) at Holt (2-1)
The Rams’ rejuvenation has brought relevance to this matchup after the first meeting between these teams ended with a 49-7 Panthers victory a year ago. With solid wins over Caledonia and Hudsonville and a close loss last week to Traverse City West, Holt is projecting early to earn its first playoff berth since 2013. But DeWitt represents a fourth straight tough opponent to start the season, and also a major measuring stick locally as the reigning Capital Area Activities Conference Blue champion and winningest team in the Lansing area since the start of the century.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Evart (3-0) at Beal City (3-0), Fowler (3-0) at Laingsburg (3-0), Portage Northern (3-0) at East Lansing (2-1), Williamston (2-1) at St. Johns (2-1).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Traverse City St. Francis (2-1) at Kingsley (3-0)
This rivalry has been one-sided this decade, with St. Francis winning seven of eight meetings including last year’s during the regular season (43-8) and playoffs (41-20). But there are a few reasons to believe this rematch will be much more competitive. First, last year’s games saw Kingsley break a four-year shutout streak against the Gladiators on the way to finishing 10-2 – after going only 1-8 in 2017. The Stags have won all of their games this fall by at least 27 points. And St. Francis did suffer only its second regular-season loss of the last five seasons, in Week 2 to Maple City Glen Lake – although the defeat is looking better every week as the Lakers remain unbeaten.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Traverse City Central (2-1) at Traverse City West (2-1), Frankfort (2-1) at Maple City Glen Lake (3-0), St. Ignace (2-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (3-0), McBain (1-2) at Lake City (1-2).
Southeast & Border
Sand Creek (3-0) at Clinton (3-0)
Clinton has emerged as the early favorite in the Tri-County Conference with recent power Ottawa Lake Whiteford off to a 1-2 start and the Redskins putting up at least 41 points in all three of their games so far. But Sand Creek has gone over 50 twice, and more impressively pulled out a 31-28 Week 2 win over otherwise unscored-upon Adrian Lenawee Christian. The last three games between these two were decided by seven points or fewer. Clinton won the last two including last fall 28-27.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Blissfield (2-1) at Brooklyn Columbia Central (3-0), Onsted (2-1) at Hillsdale (3-0), Michigan Center (1-2) at Addison (2-1), Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes (1-2) at Pittsford (2-1).
Edwardsburg (3-0) at Vicksburg (3-0)
The reigning Division 4 champion Eddies have run their winning streak to 17 and given up all of eight points this season, those to Dowagiac in Week 1. This is all familiar of course – Edwardsburg has lost only two regular-season games over the last seven years, although the first defeat came to Vicksburg in 2014. Despite finishing just 3-6 a year ago, the Bulldogs did give the Eddies their second-closest game of the entire 2018 season including playoffs with a 38-22 defeat in Week 8 (only Grand Rapids Catholic Central in a two-point Semifinal loss came closer).
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Lawton (3-0) at Delton Kellogg (3-0), Paw Paw (3-0) at Dowagiac (2-1), Stevensville Lakeshore (2-1) at St. Joseph (3-0), Kalamazoo Central (1-2) at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix (0-3).
West Iron County (3-0) at Calumet (3-0)
Coming off what surely will be one of its toughest league games of this season against Ishpeming Westwood, Calumet next gets what should be a strong nonleague challenge in West Iron – even considering the Copper Kings won the same matchup under similar circumstances 43-6 a year ago. The Wykons did go on to finish 8-3, its only other losses both to Ishpeming. A win tonight would give them not only a great measuring stick as they look to match up with another undefeated Hematites team in league play, but also would put West Iron at 4-0 for the first time since 2014.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Marquette (1-2) at Escanaba (3-0), Ishpeming Westwood (1-2) at Ishpeming (3-0), Kingsford (1-2) at Gladstone (2-1), Petoskey (0-3) at Sault Ste. Marie (2-1).
Rockford (3-0) at Muskegon Mona Shores (3-0)
Even with some of their opponents’ struggles, it’s always going to be impressive how Rockford has opened with wins over Grand Rapids Christian, Lowell and Holland West Ottawa. Mona Shores actually was even better this time against early opponents East Kentwood, Bay City Central and Reeths-Puffer than a year ago, when the Sailors also started 3-0 and then went on to beat Rockford 33-14 in Week 4 and eventually finish 12-2 and Division 2 runner-up. The Rams have some added motivation, as reportedly longtime and legendary coach Ralph Munger is slated to return to the sideline for the first time this fall after undergoing heart surgery just before practice began.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Holland Christian (2-1) at Byron Center (3-0), Sparta (3-0) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (2-1), Zeeland West (3-1) at Lowell (2-1), Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (2-1) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (1-2).
Climax-Scotts (3-0) at Camden-Frontier (3-0)
While the Panthers’ early run during their inaugural season of 8-player has been impressive, Camden-Frontier might present a next-level challenge. The Redskins have made the playoffs all three seasons they’ve played 8-player, and this fall they’ve sandwiched a nice eight-point win over Burr Oak between 50+ scoring weeks. The last time these teams played, Climax-Scotts won 60-0 in a 2015 11-player game – but it’s a good assumption the move to 8-player for both will prove to be a bit of an equalizer as they meet again.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Suttons Bay (3-0) at Onekama (3-0), Rudyard (2-1) at Brimley (3-0), Colon (3-0) at Burr Oak (2-1). SATURDAY Pickford (2-1) at Eben Junction Superior Central (2-1).
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PHOTO: Norway quarterback Nathan Paulitch (7) gains several yards during the second quarter of last week's game against Ishpeming before Hematites Ben Pruett (14), Dawson Delongchamp (17) and Tanner Romback (80) catch up to him. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)
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 email@example.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.)