Following Underwood's Lead, Belleville Finishes Perfect Season with Finals Repeat

By Scott DeCamp
Special for MHSAA.com

November 26, 2022

DETROIT – Wearing a gray suit, white dress shirt and patterned tie, DeJuan Rogers was dressed "to take care of business" Saturday afternoon at Ford Field.

And with Belleville’s interim head football coach making calls and sensational sophomore quarterback Bryce Underwood making many plays, the Tigers certainly did so, finishing a repeat Division 1 championship run to conclude this time a perfect season as well. 

Belleville wore down Caledonia, 35-17, to earn that second-straight championship. Both have come under the direction of Underwood – a 6-foot-4, 200-pounder rated as the No. 1 prospect at his position in his class nationally.

On Saturday, he finished 15-of-25 passing for 155 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Underwood also rushed 10 times for a game-high 149 yards, including a 48-yard TD scramble early in the fourth quarter that gave his team some breathing room at 28-17.

“Really just taking what they give me,” said Underwood, who already holds scholarship offers from the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and several others. “I’d say, being back on this field, I wasn’t nervous because I know what we’ve got to do and knew what we needed to do to win the game.”

Tigers quarterback Bryce Underwood (19) sprints downfield as Caledonia’s Maddox Greenfield (21) works to keep stride.Said Rogers: “You know, second year, two championships and he’s got a lot on his plate. Everybody is watching him and just to keep his composure and do what’s asked of him … it’s not always the big play – not the 70-, 80-yard touchdown – just do what’s asked of him, I thought it was amazing.”

Caledonia (12-2), which made its second Finals appearance and first since the Fighting Scots captured the Division 3 title in 2005, had Belleville on its heels for much of the first half.

The Scots led 7-0 in the first quarter and 14-7 in the second. They had a chance to build upon their margin before halftime, but a timely interception by Adrian Walker on a tipped pass at the Tigers 2 and a 13-yard sack by Lamar Fairfax on 4th-and-4 from the Tigers 34 snuffed out potential Scots scoring drives.

With 15 seconds left in the first half, Underwood connected with Walker on a 7-yard scoring pass to tie it at 14 heading into the break.

Caledonia regained the lead, 17-14, on Luke Vogler’s 22-yard field goal with 2:06 left in the third quarter, but it was all Belleville after that. Jeremiah Beasley ripped off a 36-yard TD run, Underwood had his 48-yard scamper and the Tigers put it away with 3:51 remaining on a 25-yard scoring toss to Mychal Yharbrough.

Colbey Reed rounded out Belleville’s scoring with a tackle-shedding 38-yard run to tie it at 7 late in the first quarter.

“I mean, we expected to come out and compete. I felt like we were as good as they were. I think we needed to score and finish a couple drives early,” Caledonia coach Derek Pennington said. 

“I could tell at the end that they had worn us down. We were giving up 50 pounds a guy, so obviously as the game progressed, we knew they were going to wear us down and we needed to get a bigger lead. We came out, had a good plan – we just needed to finish (a couple drives in the first half).”

Caledonia senior quarterback Mason McKenzie finished with a team-high 134 rushing yards on 23 carries. He was 6-of-18 passing for 77 yards with two interceptions.

Belleville’s Colbey Reed (23) picks an opening.  Brock Townsend scored on 1-yard plunges in both the first and second quarters for the Fighting Scots.

“I mean, we had a great season, so like Coach P said, we’ve got to keep our heads high, but it definitely sucks to lose your last game,” McKenzie said. “It’s my last game at Caledonia, so it’s definitely tough but, I mean, we had a great season. There’s not a much better experience than this. It was really awesome here, but it sucks to lose.”

Beasley paced Belleville defensively with seven tackles, while Blake Herron made seven stops for Caledonia to lead his team.

Fighting Scots senior defensive end Derek Pennington Jr., son of the coach, said that Underwood’s being elusive and tough to bring down made it a challenge, plus of course “he threw absolute darts in the middle of the field.”

“He’s a 5-star kid. He’s the No. 1 quarterback in his class, he’s 6-4 … I mean, he’s a great player,” coach Derek Pennington said. “We had a bunch of kids from Caledonia chasing him around. He’s a good kid and hats off to him – he’s obviously got a bright future.”

Caledonia, which was the smallest school in Division 1 enrollment-wise with 1,490 students, was battle-tested by the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red featuring the likes of Rockford, Grandville and other traditionally strong programs.

Belleville, with an enrollment of 1,789, saw its toughest regular-season challenges during the final weeks before playoff selection. However, the Tigers did survive a major test from Detroit Cass Tech in last week’s Semifinal, 29-28 in overtime, on Underwood’s two-point conversion run to win it, and after defeating Saline and Detroit Catholic Central along the way as well.

Belleville (14-0) was able to overcome any adversity that came its way.

Rogers led the Tigers through this playoff run after coach Jermain Crowell was suspended first by Belleville administration before the start of the postseason and later by the MHSAA through the 2024-25 academic year for violating the MHSAA’s undue influence rules.

“Just no excuses, no excuses,” said Rogers, who shifted into the active head-coaching role after previously serving as defensive coordinator. “Things are going to happen, things might not go our way, but at the end of the day there’s still a job that’s got to be done.” 

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Belleville interim coach Dejuan Rogers raises the Division 1 championship trophy Saturday as Felix Shorter (71), Brayden Lane (24) and their teammates celebrate. (Middle) Tigers quarterback Bryce Underwood (19) sprints downfield as Caledonia’s Maddox Greenfield (21) works to keep stride. (Below) Belleville’s Colbey Reed (23) picks an opening. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“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.

John GuilleanGuillean 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.”

Great anticipation

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.

Derek GriblerGribler 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 ShebestPam 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 pamkzoo@aol.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.)