By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Week 2 of the MHSAA football season generally means the start of league play for schools across Michigan.
Five leagues were formed and nine reshuffled significantly for 2014 – so we’ll do our best to guide you through some of the new names and title chases as they unfold over the next two months.
Also new for this week’s look at the best games from every corner of the state – by request from one of our readers – a look at top 8-player games to be played (previously those were included in regional outlooks with the 11-player matchups.)
See below for the places to be this Friday and Saturday. All games are Friday unless noted.
Zeeland West (1-0) at Zeeland East (0-1)
These rivals – literally neighbors on the same piece of property – continued an intriguing trend in 2013 when for the second straight season Zeeland East won the regular-season matchup and West then eliminated the Chix in the playoffs with a victory of 30-plus points. West went on last season to win the MHSAA Division 3 championship.
Others that caught my eye: Caledonia (1-0) at Grand Rapids South Christian (0-1), Fruitport (0-1) at Muskegon Mona Shores (1-0), Montague (0-1) at Muskegon Oakridge (0-1), Grand Rapids Christian (1-0) at Muskegon (1-0).
Eaton Rapids (1-0) at Mason (0-1)
Eaton Rapids burst onto the scene in 2013, ending a streak of 19 losing seasons by making the playoffs for the first time and then winning a District championship as well. The positive vibes continued with a 34-14 win over Jackson Northwest last week, while Mason – an annual Lansing-area power with five playoff appearances in the last six seasons – fell to rival Okemos by two scores. The Bulldogs have won 20 straight over the Greyhounds, but this should be the best tilt between the two in some time.
Others that caught my eye: Holland West Ottawa (0-1) at Grand Ledge (1-0), Clare (0-1) at Beal City (1-0), Rockford (1-0) at Holt (0-1), Grandville (1-0) at Okemos (1-0).
Southwest and Border
Schoolcraft (1-0) at Constantine (1-0)
This is another pair with a history of multiple meetings in the same season. They are clear favorites in the Kalamazoo Valley Association again this fall – and also have faced each other in the playoffs four of the last eight seasons. Schoolcraft has won the last two regular-season meetings, including 37-28 in 2013. But Constantine has won all five times they’ve met in the postseason.
Others that caught my eye: Decatur (1-0) at Fennville (1-0), Gobles (1-0) at Hartford (1-0), Battle Creek Lakeview (0-1) at Portage Central (1-0), St. Joseph (1-0) at Richland Gull Lake (1-0).
Traverse City Central (1-0) at Escanaba (1-0)
These two faced off the last two seasons, and it wasn’t really close – Central won by 44 and 21 points, respectively. Another victory would put the Trojans in nice position heading into Big North Conference play after missing the playoffs a year ago. But Escanaba also won last week and would love to take another step toward a first winning season since 2011, especially with 2013 playoff teams Cheboygan, Detroit Country Day and Sault Ste. Marie still coming up on the nonleague schedule.
Others that caught my eye: Negaunee (1-0) at Calumet (1-0), DeWitt (1-0) at Kingsford (1-0), Munising (0-1) at Powers North Central (1-0), Alpena (0-1) at Sault Ste. Marie (0-1).
Macomb Dakota (0-1) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (1-0)
These Macomb Area Conference Red rivals are front-loaded this fall with high-profile games – Dakota opened with a three-point loss to reigning MHSAA Division 1 champion Clarkston, while Chippewa Valley survived a three-point victory over perennial power Lake Orion. And the Big Reds definitely have been waiting for this one, having lost the league title by falling to Dakota 52-7 in Week 8 last season, and then seeing their season end against Dakota 34-14 in the District Final.
Others that caught my eye: Detroit U-D Jesuit (1-0) at Detroit Country Day (0-1), Rochester Hills Stoney Creek (1-0) at Oxford (1-0), Utica Eisenhower (0-1) at Sterling Heights Stevenson (1-0), Detroit Douglass (0-1) at Detroit Mumford (0-1).
Lower Up North
Grayling (1-0) at Gaylord (1-0)
These two, located a mere 27 miles apart on I-75, were regular opponents for decades – but this is their first matchup since 1996. Back then, Grayling was in the midst of a decade-long string of losing seasons; now they’ve had 11 straight above-.500 finishes. Gaylord had a nice run of success soon after these two suspended their series – but more recently won a combined four games over the last five seasons. The Blue Devils equaled last fall’s victory total last week by beating Cheboygan 40-0.
Others that caught my eye: Pickford (1-0) at Indian River Inland Lakes (1-0), Hudsonville (1-0) at Traverse City West (1-0), Oscoda (1-0) at Whittemore-Prescott (1-0), McBain (0-1) at Traverse City St. Francis (0-1) on Saturday.
Bay and Thumb
Marine City (1-0) at St. Clair (1-0)
These two decided the MAC Gold title in Week 8 last season – St. Clair winning 43-33 – but they face off in the league opener this time. St. Clair renewed a series with Croswell-Lexington last week for the first time since 1993 and won 26-21, while the reigning MHSAA Division 4 champ Mariners continued their high-scoring ways beating Algonac 49-28.
Others that caught my eye: Yale (1-0) at Richmond (1-0), Harbor Beach (1-0) at Vassar (1-0), Lansing Catholic (1-0) at Saginaw Nouvel (0-1), Ovid-Elsie (0-1) at Freeland (1-0).
Carsonville-Port Sanilac (0-1) vs. Lawrence (1-0), Saturday at Webberville
The inaugural MHSAA champion in 2012, Carsonville-Port Sanilac was an early standard-setter for the 8-player game – and Lawrence, a semifinalist last season, has helped raise the level of play since joining the scene a year ago. CPS is coming off an opening loss to Morrice, a program new to 8-player this fall.
Others that caught my eye: Dryden (1-0) at Caseville (1-0), Burr Oak (1-0) at Waldron (1-0).
PHOTO: Bessemer’s Gogebic Miners opened this season with a 36-14 win over Hancock. (Photo courtesy of Norman Tesch/Wakefield.)
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.)