By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The sun is setting on another Michigan high school football regular season.
Heading into Thursday night, 160 teams in 11-player could either qualify automatically with a win this weekend or set themselves up for a possible at-large bid. And 20 8-player teams, give or take a few, still look to be alive for one of 16 spots in that field.
A number of games including Detroit Public School League and Big 8/Cascades Conference crossovers were played Thursday. See the MHSAA Score Center for those scores and the schedule for tonight and Saturday. Be sure to tune in to Fox Sports Detroit at 7 p.m. Sunday for the announcement of this season's playoff brackets in all nine divisions. Click for more details on the Selection Sunday Show.
And see below for the final regular-season Drive for Detroit preview, powered by MI Student Aid, with some emphasis placed on games that could help decide the playoff field. All games are tonight unless noted.
Bay & Thumb
Frankenmuth (8-0) at Freeland (8-0)
This is a repeat of last year’s Week 9 scenario, when these Tri-Valley Conference champions – Frankenmuth from the East and Freeland from the Central – met in the final regular season game. Freeland won big, 42-7, and then won 35-12 when they met again two weeks later for a Division 5 District title. The numbers indicate a closer game between the two this time; Freeland’s defense remains stellar giving up only 8.6 points per game, but Frankenmuth’s is giving up only 5.4 and could be the key to reversing last season’s results.
Others that caught my eye: Lapeer (6-2) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (6-2), Flint Powers Catholic (5-3) at Davison (8-0), Fenton (6-2) at Linden (6-2), Midland Dow (7-1) at Midland (4-4).
Detroit Cass Tech (8-0) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (7-1) at Ford Field
As anticipated, these two will meet for the PSL Division 1 championship after also facing each other in division play three weeks ago. Cass Tech won that game 31-18, being held to its fewest points of the season but also locking down a King offense that has scored fewer than 39 only one other time. The Crusaders already got a taste of a rematch last week, when they played Detroit East English for the second straight and escaped with a two-point win after downing the Bulldogs by 38 the week before. King will hope for a similar tightening up of the score in this second meeting with the Technicians.
Others that caught my eye: Lake Orion (5-3) at Bloomfield Hills (8-0), Detroit Denby (7-1) vs. Detroit Mumford (7-1) at Ford Field, Oak Park (6-2) at Southfield Arts & Technology (5-3), Detroit Catholic Central (8-0) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (5-3) on Saturday at Ford Field
Walled Lake Western (7-1) at Brighton (7-1)
This Lakes championship game features the winners of the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West (Brighton) and North (Western) in their first meeting since 1997. The Warriors are undefeated aside from having to forfeit an opening-night victory and have beaten three teams already qualified for the playoffs and two more that could get in at-large. Brighton has four wins against teams that are in or close, but did lose Week 2 to Northville – which lost to Western in Week 3.
Others that caught my eye: Grandville Calvin Christian (5-3) at Belding (5-3), Laingsburg (7-1) at Durand (5-3), Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (4-4) at Lansing Catholic (7-1), Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (6-2) at New Lothrop (8-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Boyne City (6-2) at Traverse City St. Francis (8-0)
Boyne City’s rough start to this season is barely a memory two months later as it has a chance to finish this comeback with a Northern Michigan Football Conference Legends-clinching victory against reigning champion St. Francis. The Ramblers will have a little vengeance in mind after St. Francis' 32-13 win in their 2015 meeting decided the league title. But the Gladiators are riding high; St. Francis downed playoff-bound Kalkaska 49-0 last week, has given up 15 points over its last four games and no more than 14 in any game this fall.
Others that caught my eye: Traverse City Central (7-1) at Cadillac (6-2), Kalkaska (6-2) at Grayling (5-3), Clare (7-1) at Houghton Lake (5-3), Frankfort (8-0) at Onekama (6-2).
Southeast & Border
Birmingham Groves (8-0) at Saline (8-0)
Trying to pick an angle on this one is tough; it’s just a great matchup. Both teams went 9-0 last season, so the winner going undefeated won’t be something new. Both also rank among the highest in any division for playoff-point average, so the winner of this one could be looking at a nice playoff road – but the loser will be in good shape as well. Both are keyed by strong defenses: Saline has given up 12.7 points per game but only 31 points over their last four. Groves, meanwhile, has given up only 34 points over the last seven games and no more than eight since Week 2.
Others that caught my eye: Morenci (5-3) at Adrian Madison (4-4), Dearborn (7-1) at Ann Arbor Skyline (4-4), Sand Creek (7-1) at Petersburg-Summerfield (5-3), Grass Lake (7-1) at Springport (7-1).
Portage Central (7-1) at St. Joseph (6-2)
Portage Central no doubt has been looking forward to this one; the Mustangs were cruising along to an outright Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West title and perfect regular season last year when St. Joseph busted both with a 22-6 Week 9 win. The teams ended up sharing the league title, and the Bears are in the same position of trying to force another share after losing to Stevensville Lakeshore in Week 4. Portage Central’s only loss this fall was on the road to one-loss Traverse City Central.
Others that caught my eye: Traverse City West (6-2) at Coldwater (6-2), Lawton (7-1) at Decatur (4-4), Portland (8-0) at Marshall (4-4), DeWitt (7-1) at Portage Northern (5-3).
Newberry (7-1) at St. Ignace (7-1)
The Indians could add a major highlight to their best season since 2004 by avenging last year’s 50-20 playoff loss to the Saints. St. Ignace went on to the Division 8 Semifinals and this fall locked up an eighth-straight league title in its first season in the NMFL Legends division. Newberry can gain a share of the Mid-Eastern Conference title, but only if first-place and undefeated Lake Linden-Hubbell falls this weekend to Munising.
Others that caught my eye: Iron Mountain (6-2) at Norway (7-1), Kingsford (6-2) at Escanaba (6-2), Bark River-Harris (3-5) at Felch North Dickinson (5-3), Hancock (4-4) at Houghton (3-5).
Rockford (6-2) at Hudsonville (7-1)
For most of this season, it didn’t look like this game would mean as much as it does once again. Rockford has rattled off six straight wins after a rough start and holds a one-win advantage on both Grandville and Hudsonville in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red. Hudsonville fell to Grandville in Week 4 but can create a three-way tie for the title if it can avenge last year’s pair of losses to the Rams – 28-27 in Week 9 and then 21-13 in their District Final.
Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids West Catholic (7-1) at Allendale (6-2), Hudsonville Unity Christian (7-1) at Byron Center (7-1), Zeeland East (6-2) at Zeeland West (6-2), East Grand Rapids (6-2) at Grand Rapids South Christian (5-3).
Powers North Central (8-0) at Stephenson (7-1)
The Jets have turned away all challengers in their quest to repeat as MHSAA champions. North Central has yet to lose a game in two seasons of 8-player football, and it’s scored at least 56 points in every game this fall and 76 or more four of the last five weeks. Enter Stephenson, which saw North Central twice last season and this fall has lost only to Crystal Falls Forest Park – the team to give North Central its toughest challenge so far.
Others that caught my eye: Camden-Frontier (5-1) at Waldron (4-4), New Haven Merritt (8-0) at Flint International Academy (6-2).
Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTOS: Whitehall and Ravenna took the field under a picturesque sunset Oct. 7. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)
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.)