By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
It's coach speak for sure, but true all the same: First, teams focus on winning the league title. And after that, bigger things tend to take care of themselves.
Many across Michigan started that quest last weekend. But for most of the rest, the first steps toward a conference championship will come tonight.
Need a game to watch? No problem. See below for what's playing near you. And remember to visit the MHSAA Score Center for updated scores and standings
(All are tonight unless noted. Go to Score Center for additional dates and kickoff times.)
Muskegon (2-0) at Rockford (1-1)
After four seasons of defining the O-K Red as arguably the best league in the state, these two are now split up as Muskegon moved to the O-K Black this fall. But there will continue to be a share of statewide eyes watching this one. The Big Reds put potential playoff opponents back on notice by opening with a 21-14 win over reigning MHSAA Division 3 champion Orchard Lake St. Mary, and Rockford came back from a tough opening loss to Lowell by shutting out Holt last week, 22-0.
Others that caught my eye: East Kentwood at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Grand Rapids Christian at Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills, Grand Haven at Lowell, Montague at Muskegon Oakridge.
Dearborn Fordson (2-0) at Warren DeLaSalle (1-1), Saturday
The Detroit Catholic League Central also has annual claim as the state's toughest conference, so wins are at a premium for that league's teams -- and DeLaSalle has its work cut out tonight. Fordson has opened with victories over 2011 playoff teams Macomb Dakota and Redford Thurston, and fell to the Pilots only 31-28 a year ago. Quarterback Shane Morris and company will be hoping to shift momentum after last week's 49-13 loss to Cleveland St. Ignatius -- and with Birmingham Brother Rice and Detroit Catholic Central up next.
Others that caught my eye: Romeo at Macomb Dakota, Rochester Adams at Oak Park, Cincinnati Moeller at Detroit Catholic Central (Saturday), Detroit Renaissance at Detroit Cass Tech.
Hurley, Wis., (2-0) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (2-0)
Hurley actually plays more teams from Michigan than from its home state, and has opened by dominating two of them by a combined score of 90-13. Forest Park just missed a ninth-straight season with at least 10 wins last fall in part because it lost to Hurley 33-16 -- the Trojans' only loss of the regular season. In fact, Forest Park has lost two of its last three against the Midgets, which probably gives this the sense of a rivalry game for the home team located only a few miles from the border.
Others that caught my eye: Bessemer at Baraga, Iron Mountain at Iron River West Iron County, Calumet at Ishpeming, Stephenson at Norway.
Southwest and Border
Dowagiac (2-0) at Plainwell (2-0)
The upstart Trojans are hoping to break a six-game losing streak to Dowagiac, although for the first time during that string they are no longer in the same division -- the Wolverine B split into North and South this fall. Still, this would be significant for a few reasons: Plainwell is 2-0 for the first time since 2001 and after finishing 0-9 only two seasons ago, and a win tonight would give the team its first 3-0 start since 1998. For Dowagiac, it's a chance to be 3-0 for the first time since 2006, and this potentially is its toughest test until the Wolverine B South finale against Edwardsburg on Oct. 12 or a week earlier against Three Rivers.
Others that caught my eye: Sturgis at Battle Creek Harper Creek, Olivet at Schoolcraft, St. Joseph Michigan Lutheran at St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic, Coloma at Paw Paw.
Bay and Thumb
Millington (2-0) at Frankenmuth (2-0)
For a few decades, this was THE GAME in the Tri-Valley Conference East just about every season. But the Cardinals have won four straight and at least 10 games total in each of the last three seasons, and often that sort of one-sidedness drains some of the mystique. In this case, that's doubtful. This matchup decided the league title again last fall, and Frankenmuth is 2-0 for the first time since 2007. But if the Eagles score tonight, it will be a first against Millington this season. The Cardinals have outscored their first two opponents by a combined 92-0.
Others that caught my eye: Comstock Park at Bay City John Glenn, Lapeer East at Lapeer West, Saginaw at Midland Dow, Alma at Freeland.
Lower Up North
Cadillac (2-0) at Petoskey (2-0)
Petoskey has won three of the last four Big North Conference championships, with that lone lapse in 2009 -- when Cadillac finished one game ahead to claim the title. The Northmen were first and the Vikings tied for second last season, and this could be the decider again. Petoskey won big last season, 63-24, but Cadillac is 2-0 for the first time since 2006.
Others that caught my eye: Benzie Central at Frankfort, Manton at McBain, Johannesburg-Lewiston at Mancelona, Elk Rapids at Traverse City St. Francis.
Lansing Sexton (0-2) at Grand Ledge (2-0)
Sexton is anything but a typical 0-2 team; the Big Reds, who played in the Division 4 postseason in 2011, opened this fall with a loss to Division 1 power Plymouth before falling to Monroe by a point for the second straight season. Now comes another much larger school in Grand Ledge, which beat Sexton 14-0 last fall. The Comets began this season with a 40-30 loss to East Kentwood, but aren't having much trouble scoring -- the came back with a 31-10 win over Holland West Ottawa and are led by multi-talented quarterback Jalen Brady.
Others that caught my eye: Pewamo-Westphalia at Laingsburg, Portland at Corunna, Burr Oak at Portland St. Patrick, Morrice at Webberville.
PHOTO: Warren DeLaSalle quarterback Shane Morris attempts to break away from two Ann Arbor Pioneer defenders during their opening-night game, a 35-7 DeLaSalle win. (Click to see 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.)