By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Sadly, thousands of Michigan high school football players will play the final game of their seasons – and in many cases their careers – this weekend.
Week 9, the last of this regular season, began Thursday with a handful of games and will conclude around 8 p.m. Saturday with the last of the Detroit Catholic League championship games. Entering Thursday, 166 teams had clinched playoff berths in the 256-team 11-player field – with 139 hopefuls still with a chance to advance. Of that 139, 60 simply need to win this weekend to qualify – but it’s also anticipated that a record number of additional qualifiers – with 5-4 or 4-4 records – will make the field when it is selected and introduced Sunday.
Our weekly preview below highlights many contests you might expect, and many you might not. There are still five league title races completely up for grabs, and 23 where one team has clinched but another (or more) may still share the championship. Games with league titles or playoff berths are on the line were given priority over otherwise great matchups that will still be fun to watch but won’t figure in as much into what happens beyond this weekend.
Remember to tune in to FOX Sports Detroit PLUS at 7 p.m. Sunday for the “Selection Sunday Show” announcement of brackets in every division for both 11 and 8-player. The show also can be viewed on FOXSportsDetroit.com or via FOX Sports Go! Additionally, 34 games will be streamed live Friday and Saturday on MHSAA.tv – click for listings and links.
"Drive for Detroit" is sponsored by MI Student Aid.
Bay & Thumb
Lapeer (7-1) at Davison (7-1)
Just like a year ago, the Saginaw Valley League Blue title comes down to this regular-season finale. Last season, Lapeer emerged with a 28-6 win and the outright league championship. The Lightning’s only regular-season loss the last two seasons came to Lake Orion this year in Week 1, and that’s looked better every week as the Dragons stand 7-1. Also for the second straight year, Davison’s lone loss heading into this game has come to Warren De La Salle Collegiate. The Cardinals also have a notable win over Flint Metro League “Upper” champion Fenton, while Lapeer beat SVL Red second-place Midland Dow and last week Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Ubly (7-1) at Cass City (7-1), Central Montcalm (7-1) at Millington (4-4), New Lothrop (8-0) at Frankenmuth (8-0), Midland (8-0) at Midland Dow (5-3).
Detroit Catholic Central (4-4) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary's (7-1), Saturday at Eastern Michigan University
The Bishop division championship game at Rynearson Stadium will match up the co-champions from the Detroit Catholic League Central – but this means more than another trophy for the Shamrocks. DCC is one of two league champions statewide facing the prospect of ending with a sub-.500 overall record. And if history holds, DCC also would look good to qualify for the playoffs at 5-4 due to its strong schedule. But the Eaglets are not without added motivation too – they fell to DCC 20-14 two weeks ago to create that shared league title.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Dearborn Fordson (7-1) at Brighton (7-1), Birmingham Groves (7-1) at Brownstown Woodhaven (8-0), Detroit Martin Luther King (6-2) vs. Detroit Denby (7-1) at Detroit Renaissance, West Bloomfield (7-1) at Warren De La Salle Collegiate (5-3).
Pewamo-Westphalia (8-0) at Williamston (5-3)
The Pirates locked up the Central Michigan Athletic Conference title last week and can extend their regular-season winning streak to 26. One of the few close victories during that run came in Week 9 last season when P-W edged Williamston 28-27. The Hornets need this one to qualify for the playoffs automatically, and having that chance is impressive on its own considering they entered Week 7 with three undefeated teams left on the schedule. Williamston then fell close to still-unbeaten Mason, but last week handed Olivet its only loss, 35-28.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Okemos (1-7) at East Lansing (6-2), Lansing Waverly (3-5) at DeWitt (6-2), Grand Ledge (2-6) at Holt (6-2), Bath (3-5) at Perry (4-4).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Cadillac (5-3) at Traverse City Central (7-1), Saturday
The Trojans led the Big North Conference all season, winning all of their games since falling to DeWitt by five in Week 1. They claimed a share of the title last week, but a fifth-straight win over Cadillac to make the championship outright won’t be automatic by any means. The Vikings have bounced way back from going 1-8 last year after finishing 2-7 in 2017, and two of those three losses this fall were by a combined four points.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Charlevoix (5-3) at Harbor Springs (6-2), Clare (7-1) at McBain (5-3), Kingsley (8-0) at Boyne City (4-4), Johannesburg-Lewiston (8-0) at Indian River Inland Lakes (8-0).
Southeast & Border
Livonia Clarenceville (5-3) at Whitmore Lake (6-2)
The Trojans moved into the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference this fall after decades in the Tri-County Conference, and they couldn’t have hoped for a better football outcome. Whitmore Lake is guaranteed its first winning regular season in this sport since 2013, and it claimed a share of the MIAC title last week. But that could turn into a three-team shared championship if Clarenceville – tied with Auburn Hills Oakland Christian for second place – downs Whitmore Lake in this league finale.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Jonesville (6-2) at Grass Lake (7-1), Hillsdale (8-0) at Dundee (5-3), Homer (6-2) at Manchester (5-3). SATURDAY Reading (7-1) at Addison (7-1).
Edwardsburg (8-0) at Paw Paw (8-0)
The reigning Wolverine Conference and statewide Division 4 champion Eddies are putting a 22-game winning streak on the line, having last lost in the 2017 Division 4 Final. In fact, Edwardsburg has only two league defeats since joining the Wolverine in 2012. The Eddies defeated Paw Paw twice last season, also in a District Final – but the Redskins rarely have been slowed this fall and enter this matchup with nearly the same defensive points-against average as Edwardsburg after playing the same opponents. Not counting South Haven, which forfeited to Edwardsburg and fell to Paw Paw 56-0, the Eddies are scoring 52 points per game and giving up 6.4. Paw Paw is scoring 39 points and giving up 6.9.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY St. Joseph (6-2) at Portage Northern (7-1), Stevensville Lakeshore (4-4) at Mattawan (4-4), Kalamazoo United (4-4) at Schoolcraft (8-0), Vicksburg (5-3) at Otsego (5-3).
Kingsford (4-4) at Marquette (4-4)
Marquette joins Detroit Catholic Central as the other league champion also playing for an overall winning record and playoff berth this week. The Redmen have earned a share of the Great Northern Conference title and can clinch it outright against the Flivvers. But Kingsford has a lot to play for as well – a win could mean an additional qualifier playoff berth after the team just missed the postseason a year ago. Additionally, Escanaba would claim a share of the league title as well if the Flivvers are victorious.
Keep an eye on these: THURSDAY Bark River-Harris (5-3) at Ishpeming (6-2). FRIDAY L'Anse (4-4) at Calumet (7-1), Negaunee (6-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (6-2), Bessemer (0-8) at Iron Mountain (8-0).
East Kentwood (5-3) at Rockford (7-1)
The Ottawa-Kent Conference Red is full of possibilities after Grandville defeated Rockford 30-3 last week to move into a tie for first place with the Rams. The first option would see Rockford win this game and Grandville defeat Caledonia so they would share the title – or just one of the two could win tonight and claim the championship outright. Or, East Kentwood and Caledonia could win this weekend, with the Falcons and then perhaps Hudsonville (with a win over last-place Holland West Ottawa) making it a four-team shared championship. East Kentwood defeated Rockford 28-17 last season, and fell to Grandville by just a point four weeks ago.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Portland (7-1) at Montague (6-2), Traverse City St. Francis (6-2) at Muskegon Oakridge (8-0), Hudsonville Unity Christian (5-3) at Zeeland East (5-3), Grandville (7-1) at Caledonia (3-5).
Martin (8-0) at Climax-Scotts (7-1)
At one point in Martin history, the Clippers posted six straight 0-9 seasons from 2008-13. It’s only worth bringing those up because Martin this weekend can finish the regular season undefeated for the first time since 1987, when it won the 11-player Class D title. Climax-Scotts, like Martin, is enjoying an excellent first year of 8-player – and if the playoffs started today, they’d both be considered MHSAA championship contenders with the Clippers in Division 1 and the Panthers in Division 2.
Keep an eye on these: FRIDAY Gaylord St. Mary (3-5) at Brethren (5-3), Suttons Bay (8-0) at Mesick (7-1), Burr Oak (5-3) at Portland St. Patrick (8-0), Pickford (7-1) at Brimley (5-3).
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PHOTO: Southfield Arts & Technology defenders, in red, stop an Oxford ball carrier during a Week 7 win. The Warriors are among teams needing a victory this weekend to potentially qualify for the playoffs. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)
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.)