By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
It's opening night of another MHSAA football season. Not much more needs to be said to describe why athletes, coaches and communities are stepping a little higher with the first varsity kickoffs only a few hours away.
Every game and every team has a story. And each week Second Half will bring you the best game in each of seven regions around the state, plus another five from each that should be worth following for even casual fans.
Make sure to visit MHSAA.com tonight and all weekend for a complete statewide scoreboard, and return to Second Half on Monday as we wrap up the most significant results from another opening night.
(Team records that follow are from 2012, and all games are tonight unless noted. Games are designated by region based on home team. Visit the MHSAA Score Center for a complete schedule.)
Oak Park (9-3) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (11-3), Friday at Wayne State University
When last we left Oak Park, the Knights were celebrating a team record for wins, their first playoff appearance since 2005 plus league and District championships. They can kick off 2013 by giving proof they’ll be contenders again; St. Mary’s is coming off an overtime loss to Grand Rapids Christian in a memorable MHSAA Final and always is in the hunt.
Others that caught my eye: Rockford (10-3) at Utica Eisenhower (8-3) on Friday, Detroit Cass Tech (12-2) at Southfield (7-4) on Friday, Pontiac Notre Dame (9-2) at Dearborn Heights Robichaud (9-2), Macomb Dakota (10-2) at Dearborn Fordson (7-3), Zeeland West (7-4) at Detroit Country Day (11-1).
Bay and Thumb
Saginaw Nouvel (9-3) at Saginaw Swan Valley (10-3)
This is a rare matchup between Saginaw powers, but one with interesting history nonetheless. The teams have met only three times – most recently in 2001, when Nouvel beat the Vikings 30-0 in a Division 5 District Final. Nouvel also shut Swan Valley out in season openers in 1984 and 1985. But 2,000-yard rusher Alex Grace and teammates also back from last season’s MHSAA Semifinal run should find the end zone this time regardless of the final score.
Others that caught my eye: Reese (10-1) at Montrose (10-2), Hemlock (9-2) at Frankenmuth (10-1), Marine City (8-2) at Richmond (7-4), Armada (5-4) at Flint Powers Catholic (11-1), Clare (9-3) at Freeland (6-4).
Lower Up North
Big Rapids (8-2) at Reed City (10-1)
Reed City eventually finished first and Big Rapids second in the Central State Activities Association in 2012 after Reed City edged the Cardinals 14-6 on opening night. The Coyotes went on to win 10 straight before falling in their District Final. This matchup should set the tone again in one of the few league races that begins on opening night.
Others that caught my eye: Boyne City (8-2) at Maple City Glen Lake (9-2), Roscommon (6-4) at Grayling (9-1), Elk Rapids (4-5) at Mancelona (10-1), Carrollton (8-2) at Standish-Sterling (7-4), New Lothrop (10-1) at Traverse City St. Francis (4-5).
Grand Rapids Christian (13-1) at Grand Rapids South Christian (11-3)
Three months after continuing their annual opening-night game in 2012, Grand Rapids Christian won the MHSAA Division 3 championship a day after South Christian won the Division 4 title. The Eagles will have a significantly different look at least on offense this time after graduating most of their skill players and losing record-setting receiver Drake Harris for reportedly a month with a leg injury. South Christian quarterback Jon Wassink won’t be familiar to those who watched last season’s Finals – he was injured during the run and didn’t play in the championship game. But he’s back to lead another strong effort.
Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Catholic Central (10-1) at East Grand Rapids (4-5), River Rouge (11-1) at Lowell (8-3), Muskegon Oakridge (10-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-4), Byron Center (5-4) at Grand Rapids Northview (7-3), Holland Christian (5-5) at Zeeland East (9-1).
Williamston (7-4) at Ithaca (14-0)
The Yellowjackets have won 42 straight games including the last three MHSAA Division 6 Finals, and are led by senior all-state quarterback Travis Smith. A win would tie Ithaca with 1977-82 Cheboygan for the longest winning streak in MHSAA history falling fully during the playoff era (Morenci won 44 straight before playoffs were added, and Hudson’s 72-game victory streak ended during the first year of the playoffs in 1975.) Williamston hasn’t given the Yellowjackets much of a scare during the first two years of their opening-night series, but could be the best bet as stopper until playoff time.
Others that caught my eye: Lansing Catholic (8-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (9-4), Lansing Waverly (6-4) at Lansing Everett (9-1), Haslett (4-5) at East Lansing (7-4), Dundee (6-4) at Grass Lake (10-2), Beal City (13-1) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (9-2) on Friday.
Southwest and Border
Battle Creek Harper Creek (10-3) at Mattawan (10-2)
Harper Creek kicks off its quest for a third straight season of double-digit wins against a Mattawan team coming off a school record for wins and 18 total over the last two seasons. They last met in a 2005 playoff opener. It will be a strong opening test for teams with league title aspirations again; Harper Creek won the Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference East last season, and Mattawan finished second in the SMAC West.
Others that caught my eye: Portage Central (7-4) at Sturgis (5-4), Marshall (6-4) at Stevensville Lakeshore (11-1), Otsego (6-4) at Edwardsburg (6-4), Fowler (9-2) at Mendon (11-1), Ottawa Lake Whiteford (8-2) at Blissfield (6-5).
Manistique (6-4) at Negaunee (10-2) on Friday
Negaunee has had only one losing season over the last 23 and won the Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference title last year ahead of eventual MHSAA Division 7 champion Ishpeming. Manistique finished with a winning record for the first time in four years despite opening with losses to Negaunee and Ishpeming, and could be in the title hunt in the MPAC.
Others that caught my eye: Traverse City Central (4-5) at Marquette (5-4), Iron Mountain (5-5) at Ishpeming (13-1), Stephenson (8-3) at Ishpeming Westwood (3-6) on Friday, Hancock (3-6) at Bessemer (6-3) on Saturday, Brimley (2-6) at Eben Junction Superior Central (6-3).
PHOTO: Ithaca takes the field for its MHSAA Semifinal last season at Saginaw Valley State University. The Yellowjackets have won 42 straight games. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)