By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Tonight begins the final third of this football regular season.
That percentage, as well as the number of league championships wrapped up this fall, will change drastically by the end of this Saturday night. Below is a look at some of the games that will have the greatest impact on both lists. You can catch a number of those games and 29 total live on MHSAA.tv – click for the listing and links to those games.
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Bay & Thumb
St. Clair (6-0) at Marine City (6-0)
The winner is guaranteed a share of the Macomb Area Conference Silver title, which would be Marine City’s second league title in three seasons and St. Clair’s first in 2014. Although the Mariners are scoring more than 40 points per game, their defense has been arguably more impressive giving up only 49 points over six games and no more than 14 to any opponent. But St. Clair – winner of last year’s meeting 35-21 – will provide the toughest test so far. The Saints have averaged 32 points per game against a schedule that’s included four teams still eligible for automatic playoff bids.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Clare (6-0) at Beaverton (6-0), Port Huron (5-1) at Port Huron Northern (5-1), Freeland (5-1) at Saginaw Swan Valley (4-2), Flushing (3-3) at Fenton (5-1).
Almont (6-0) at Richmond (6-0)
A share of the Blue Water Area Conference title will go to the victor of this matchup for the third time this decade, and Almont has won six of the rivals’ last 10 meetings. The Raiders, as usual, are a defensive force giving up only 47 points so far while scoring nearly 50 per game against a group that includes two four-win teams and another at 3-3. Richmond’s scores have been closer against a similarly successful set of opponents – and it’s fair to believe this game will be much closer than last year’s 51-12 Almont win.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY South Lyon (6-0) at Walled Lake Western (5-1), Romeo (5-1) at Macomb Dakota (4-2), Orchard Lake St. Mary's (6-0) at Detroit Catholic Central (3-3), Livonia Franklin (6-0) at Dearborn Fordson (5-1).
Carson City-Crystal (4-2) at Breckenridge (5-1)
A 16-6 Week 1 loss to still-unbeaten Beaverton keeps looking better and better for the reigning Division 8 runner-up Huskies, who have yet to be challenged since with a combined 220-14 margin of victory over the last five games. Breckenridge also owns a 3-0 record against Carson City-Crystal since joining the Mid-State Activities Conference, and last year’s 30-12 win clinched the league title. Tonight’s meeting will decide the outright championship again – and all of the above surely is motivation for the Eagles, who quietly will guarantee an eighth-straight winning season with one more victory this fall.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Olivet (6-0) at Lake Odessa Lakewood (2-4), Canton (3-3) at Howell (3-3), St. Johns (4-2) at Fowlerville (5-1), Williamston (4-2) at Mason (6-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Harbor Springs (5-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (6-0)
It’s hard to beat out a matchup of undefeated league leaders for the week’s top game (see Glen Lake/Kingsley below). But while those two are setting the pace in their divisions of the Northern Michigan Football League – in fact, Glen Lake has clinched a share of the Leaders – this matchup should decide the outright champion of the NMFL Legacy, either tonight or eventually. A victory this evening would give the Rams the championship after they finished second in the Legacy two of the first five seasons since the league was formed. Johannesburg-Lewiston won last season’s title thanks to an 18-15 win over Harbor Springs – and while a victory tonight would earn the Cardinals only a share of this year’s crown, their final obstacle to claiming it outright would be a Week 9 opponent that hasn’t won a game this fall.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (6-0) at Kingsley (6-0), Traverse City West (4-2) at Cadillac (4-2), Mancelona (4-2) at Charlevoix (4-2), Traverse City Central (5-1) at Alpena (3-3).
Southeast & Border
Jonesville (5-1) at Reading (5-1)
No one should be surprised Reading is playing tonight for a share of the Big 8 Conference title – the reigning Division 8 champion Rangers are attempting to win their third-straight league championship and have been tripped up by only unbeaten Pewamo-Westphalia in Week 1. Jonesville, meanwhile, is enjoying its most memorable season in years as it pursues its first league title since 2002 after last week guaranteeing its first winning season since 2013. Also not surprising: After being shut out by the Pirates, Reading has averaged nearly 53 points per game in league play. But the Comets have given up only 43 total including just 18 in their opening night loss to still-unbeaten Hillsdale.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Ottawa Lake Whiteford (4-2) at Clinton (6-0), Dexter (5-1) at Pinckney (5-1), Coldwater (5-1) at Parma Western (5-1), Ida (3-3) at Hillsdale (6-0).
Battle Creek Lakeview (6-0) at St. Joseph (6-0)
While this doesn’t mean anything of league significance to the leaders of their respective Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference divisions, it could provide a nice confidence boost as both programs should have an opportunity for a special postseason as well. Lakeview is the best in the SMAC East, having clinched a share of that title after two straight sub-.500 overall season finishes, and the Spartans yet to allow an opponent to get within single digits. St. Joseph is tied with Portage Northern for first in the SMAC West, with its most impressive offensive and defensive output so far since finishing 10-2 in 2015.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Vicksburg (5-1) at Paw Paw (6-0), Delton Kellogg (4-2) at Kalamazoo United (3-3), Decatur (3-3) at Centreville (4-2), Jackson Lumen Christi (6-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (3-3).
West Iron County (5-1) at Ishpeming (4-2)
Tonight’s winner moves into first place by a game in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Iron with two league games to play. These two decided the title last season, as Ishpeming won their regular-season meeting 14-0 and then came back four weeks later and beat West Iron in their Division 8 District Final 38-0. This latest round might be decided when the Wykons are on offense. They score only 25 points per game, yet Ishpeming has given up more than 30 in four games – but won two of those.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Menominee (4-2) at Marquette (2-4), Hancock (4-2) at Iron Mountain (6-0), L'Anse (4-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (4-2), Gladstone (3-3) at Escanaba (5-1).
Hudsonville (5-1) at Rockford (6-0)
There’s still time for the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red to get shaken up regardless of what happens this weekend – Rockford finishes with third-place Grandville and fourth-place East Kentwood, and the Eagles still face the Falcons and Holland West Ottawa. But this one will play a role regardless of what’s yet to come. The Eagles somewhat stunned previously-undefeated Grandville 44-21 last week, and are only a one-point Week 2 loss to Holt from undefeated – and Holt suddenly looks like one of the Lansing area’s best. The Rams clinched a spot in the playoffs for the MHSAA-record 25th straight season, and this actually has been their best start since 2009 – despite playing nonleague versus Muskegon Mona Shores, Grand Rapids Christian and Lowell, all in contention for their O-K divisions’ titles.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Zeeland East (5-1) at Byron Center (6-0), Cedar Springs (5-1) at Lowell (4-2), Central Montcalm (6-0) at Reed City (4-2), Grand Rapids Catholic Central (5-1) at Spring Lake (4-2).
Brethren (4-2) at Mesick (5-1)
Like the stories for many 8-player teams, 11-player football was not frequently kind to either of these teams for quite a few years before they made the switch – Brethren in 2016 and Mesick a year later. But the Bobcats are the reigning West Michigan D League champions, and Mesick was runner-up its debut season and is playing this fall for its first league title since 1998. Aside from a 44-38 loss to Mio in Week 1, Mesick has been a rare 8-player defensive force giving up 26 points total over the last five weeks with three shutouts. Brethren has scored 60 or more points three times over the last five weeks, making those units the likely key matchup.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY International Academy of Flint (4-2) at Morrice (6-0), Pickford (5-1) at Gaylord St. Mary (6-0), Kinde-North Huron (5-1) at Deckerville (6-0). SATURDAY Onekama (5-1) at Portland St. Patrick (6-0).
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PHOTO: Howell players charge onto the field prior to Friday’s game against Salem, an eventual 65-7 win. (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 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.)