By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Don't think of tonight as the end of another warm September. Instead, consider it the start to a momentous final month of another Michigan high school football regular season.
Nine games this weekend feature teams with perfect records facing off. Add in that 72 teams statewide can clinch the first automatic playoff berths awarded this fall, and most fans won’t have to drive far to find a game with significant implications.
Check out our preview below of the best games in every corner of the state, powered by MI Student Aid. For the weekend's full schedule, check out the MHSAA Score Center. All games below are Friday unless noted.
Bay & Thumb
Holly (4-1) at Fenton (3-2)
Fenton loaded the front of its schedule with Caledonia and Temperance Bedford and came away with an 0-2 start, but bounced back nicely in pursuit of a sixth straight Flint Metro League title. The Tigers are tied for first with Holly, which also bounced back from an opening-night loss to competitive Berkley and is seeking its first win over Fenton since 2011. Regardless of tonight’s result, Fenton may still hold one more upper hand in the league race – it already has beaten Ortonville Brandon (4-1), Holly’s opponent in Week 9.
Others that caught my eye: Midland (3-2) at Davison (5-0), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (3-2) at Bay City Central (3-2), Corunna (5-0) at Montrose (3-2), Marine City (1-4) at St. Clair (3-2).
Detroit Martin Luther King (5-0) at Detroit Cass Tech (5-0), Saturday
These Detroit Public School League rivals have lined up for some colossal tilts over the years – see last season’s 31-28 and 27-25 King wins in their first meeting and then PSL championship game. But this might be the most hyped matchup of the series to date. Cass Tech, last season’s MHSAA Division 1 runner-up, has outscored its opponents by a combined 268-45 while giving up scores to only Oak Park and Detroit East English. Then there’s King, which has outscored its opponents 243-6, giving up its only points to Detroit Central in Week 2. This matchup with likely decide the PSL East Division 1 champion; regardless, they’ll likely meet again in the PSL tournament final in Week 9. And regardless of that as well, both could end their seasons playing again at Ford Field in MHSAA Finals for the second year in a row.
Others that caught my eye: Trenton (5-0) at Allen Park (5-0), Redford Union (4-1) at Dearborn Fordson (5-0), Birmingham Groves (5-0) at Farmington Hills Harrison (3-2), Orchard Lake St. Mary's (3-2) at Birmingham Brother Rice (3-2) on Saturday.
Pewamo-Westphalia (5-0) at Laingsburg (5-0)
Few think defense first when it comes to the Pirates, last season’s Division 7 runner-up. But they haven’t given up a point this season since Week 1 to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central and haven’t given up more than seven in Central Michigan Athletic Conference play since 2014. Laingsburg ended up winning a District title last year after falling to P-W 50-7 in Week 7 and could be best-suited among league opponents to know how to get on the board this week. But the Wolfpack still must slow down P-W star running back Jared Smith as he attempts to go over 1,000 yards rushing for the season tonight despite carrying the ball only 73 times heading into this game.
Others that caught my eye: Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (4-1) at Ithaca (5-0), Lake Odessa Lakewood (5-0) at Olivet (4-1), Durand (4-1) at New Lothrop (5-0), Williamston (3-2) at Fowlerville (3-2).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Maple City Glen Lake (4-1) at Frankfort (5-0)
Teams without a league loss face off this weekend in all three divisions of the Northern Michigan Football League, but this Leaders matchup is the most intriguing, arguably, based on past history and the past few weeks. Glen Lake and Frankfort have played each other yearly going back at least to the late 1950s, with their meetings often the best of the season in the old Northwest Conference. Glen Lake set up the intrigue this time by handing Charlevoix its first loss this season last week, and big, 49-7. Frankfort won the Leaders last fall, but lost 10-6 to Glen Lake, which played in the Legends division in 2015.
Others that caught my eye: St. Ignace (4-1) at Gaylord St. Mary (5-0), Kalkaska (5-0) at Boyne City (3-2), East Jordan (4-1) at Charlevoix (4-1), Traverse City St. Francis (5-0) at Grayling (3-2).
Southeast & Border
Grosse Ile (5-0) at Milan (5-0)
While Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central has made the most noise out of the Huron League over the last few seasons, these two are regulars in the mix as well. Both have a pair of 10-win seasons this decade and could be on their ways to a third – with this meeting likely deciding the league title as both have two-win leads on the rest of the conference. Milan, last year’s league runner-up, beat Grosse Ile 44-7 in 2015 and still must see St. Mary next week and then Carleton Airport to finish the Huron slate. The Red Devils, meanwhile, have one more win already than all of last season, shut out St. Mary last week, and after tonight finish the league schedule with Airport and Riverview (which are a combined 2-8).
Others that caught my eye: Chelsea (5-0) at Adrian (3-2), Clinton (4-1) at Sand Creek (5-0), Hudson (5-0) at Hillsdale (3-2), Concord (5-0) at Springport (4-1).
Schoolcraft (5-0) at Lawton (5-0)
Lawton also got the highlighted spot from this region last week, against Gobles as both hoped for the opportunity to face Schoolcraft to decide the Southwestern Athletic Conference Central title. Lawton won 31-21 and gets first shot at the Eagles after falling to them 47-0 last season despite also entering that game 5-0. Schoolcraft quietly has built a 16-game regular-season winning streak and hasn’t allowed a SAC Central opponent to get within 21 points since joining the league a year ago.
Others that caught my eye: South Haven (3-2) at Edwardsburg (5-0), Detroit U-D Jesuit (3-1) at St. Joseph (4-1), Portage Northern (3-2) at Stevensville Lakeshore (4-1), Paw Paw (3-2) at Three Rivers (4-1).
Menominee (5-0) at Escanaba (5-0)
The best in the Great Northern U.P. Conference face off to likely decide the championship, although the winner will need another win next week to clinch at least a share of the title. It’s been a while since Escanaba was in this conversation; a win tonight would give the Eskymos their most in a season since 2011. Breaking a 17-game losing streak to Menominee and qualifying for the playoffs too would make a win tonight that much sweeter – the Maroons, in fact, haven’t lost a league game since 2012 and have won 36 straight regular-season games total.
Others that caught my eye: Negaunee (5-0) at Norway (5-0), Iron River West Iron County (3-2) at Calumet (4-1), Hurley, Wis. (5-1) at Hancock (3-2), Bark River-Harris (2-3) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (5-0) on Saturday.
Grandville (5-0) at Rockford (3-2)
It’s hard to give this game top billing over Reed City/Chippewa Hills (see below), but it’s explainable given the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red still has six of seven teams in contention for automatic playoff berths and these two arguably are the best. Grandville is enjoying its most successful run since 2006 – when it still lost to Rockford 28-0 to finish second in the league – and has outscored five opponents by a total of 231-31 after downing contenders Hudsonville 36-6 and East Kentwood 46-3 the last two weeks, respectively. Rockford has fought back gallantly from an 0-2 start that included a forfeit because of a team sickness Week 1. Extending a 21-season playoff streak – and more – looks a lot more possible now.
Others that caught my eye: Reed City (5-0) at Remus Chippewa Hills (5-0), Grand Rapids Christian (5-0) at East Grand Rapids (3-2), Cedar Springs (3-2) at Lowell (5-0), Whitehall (4-1) at Muskegon Oakridge (4-1).
New Haven Merritt (5-0) at Owendale-Gagetown (5-0)
These are the top teams in the Mid-Michigan 8-Man Football League, Merritt in the Inland division and Owendale-Gagetown in the Coastal. They are also two of the top teams statewide; Merritt has the fourth highest playoff-point average in 8-player, and Owendale-Gagetown’s is tied for eighth highest. All of this could change this weekend, however; the Bulldogs are 8-0 against Merritt since the Mustangs started their program five years ago. Owendale-Gagetown won last year’s meetings 72-42 and 54-30 – but Merritt, following two straight playoff appearances, is off to its best start ever.
Others that caught my eye: Camden-Frontier (4-0) at Lawrence (5-0), Battle Creek St. Philip (4-1) at Webberville (4-1).
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PHOTO: Detroit Martin Luther King (yellow jerseys) and Detroit Cass Tech will renew their rivalry Saturday after last facing off in last season’s PSL Final at Ford Field. (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Public School League.)
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.)