By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
League champions will celebrate this weekend. And 88 teams have the opportunity to clinch playoff berths, joining 54 that already have qualified.
But a similar pressure rests on the 117 teams that enter this weekend 3-3 – and needing to win out to earn automatic tickets to the postseason.
It’s a group that includes Detroit Catholic Central, Lake Orion, Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Saginaw Nouvel – teams which advanced to Ford Field championship games over the last five years.
Keep that in mind when checking out the games to watch in the three weeks to come, including those listed below. As those coaches will tell you, for many the playoff begin now.
Williamston (6-0) at Lansing Catholic (6-0)
Most would bill this as a game between a pair of talented quarterbacks – Lansing Catholic’s 6-foot-6 Tony Poljan vs. Williamston’s speedy pass/run threat Chaz Moore. But the Capital Area Activities Conference White championship could be decided tonight as well by a Cougars defense giving up only 11 points per game or a Williamston defense a smidge better on paper at 9.8 ppg.
Others that caught my eye: Grand Blanc (5-1) at Hartland (5-1), Grand Ledge (4-2) at Lansing Everett (4-2), Laingsburg (4-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (5-1), Reed City (5-1) at Stanton Central Montcalm (4-2).
Whitehall (6-0) at Muskegon Oakridge (5-1)
After back-to-back losing seasons – including a 1-8 finish in 2013 – there are probably a few people surprised to be talking about Whitehall football this fall. But the Vikings can clinch their best record since 2006 and a share of the West Michigan Conference title with a win tonight. That would be an improvement on 2006, actually – Whitehall finished 9-2 that fall, but lost to Oakridge 14-6 to finish league runner-up.
Others that caught my eye: Cedar Springs (5-1) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (6-0), Hudsonville (4-2) at East Kentwood (5-1), Muskegon Catholic Central (6-0) at Muskegon Orchard View (4-2), Caledonia (4-2) at East Grand Rapids (4-2).
Walled Lake Western (5-1) at Walled Lake Central (5-1)
These two have played each other annually – and a few seasons twice – dating to 1969. But this should be the next in a latest series of high-impact matchups. Walled Lake Central can claim the Kensington Lakes Activities Association North title outright, or share with Western and potentially Waterford Mott if the Warriors win. Western was victorious in 2011, beating Central 18-11 in the league finale to win the North title after Central did the same to Western in 2010.
Others that caught my eye: Plymouth (5-1) at Canton (5-1), Wyandotte Roosevelt (5-1) at Brownstown Woodhaven (6-0), Ida (6-0) at Hudson (5-1), Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (5-1) at Lutheran Westland (5-1) on Saturday.
Ishpeming (6-0) at Negaunee (4-2)
These two dominated the Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference the last two seasons – Negaunee winning the league title in 2012 and Ishpeming last fall – but the Miners are already trailing the Hematites by a win thanks to the re-emergence this fall of Iron Mountain (the Mountaineers beat Negaunee 20-17 in Week 4). Negaunee will have to break Ishpeming’s 27-game winning streak tonight to create a possible three-team shared title.
Others that caught my eye: Munising (5-1) at Bark River-Harris (5-1), Constantine (6-0) at Marquette (5-1) on Saturday, L'Anse (4-2) at Calumet (3-3), Ishpeming Westwood (4-2) at Norway (3-3).
Southwest and Border
Three Rivers (4-2) at Plainwell (5-1)
All three remaining games for Wolverine B Conference teams are league games, and the East race is down to three teams – this pair and Sturgis, with all three opening the league schedule 2-0. Three Rivers and Plainwell didn’t play in the same division of the league the last two seasons, but kept a long-standing rivalry alive with a couple of nonleague tilts won by the Trojans by eight and seven points. Plainwell’s only loss this fall is a two-pointer to Edwardsburg – which also beat Three Rivers by two on opening night.
Others that caught my eye: Saugatuck (4-2) at Fennville (4-2), Edwardsburg (5-1) at Dowagiac (3-3), Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-2) at Coldwater (5-1), Portage Central (4-1) at Portage Northern (4-2).
Lower Up North
Petoskey (5-1) at Gaylord (4-2)
The good news is Petoskey already has Big North Conference leader Cadillac out of the way – the Northmen fell in their Week 3 game, 27-7. The bad news is Petoskey now has to wait and hope either Traverse City West this week or Traverse City Central in Week 9 beats Cadillac so Petoskey can earn a share of the league title. But Petoskey also must be careful – Gaylord lost to Cadillac and Central the last two weeks by a combined 19 points and is seeking its first playoff berth since 2005.
Others that caught my eye: Kingsley (4-2) at Suttons Bay (5-1), Cadillac (6-0) at Traverse City West (3-3), Grayling (3-3) at Elk Rapids (3-3), Indian River Inland Lakes (5-1) at Central Lake (4-2).
Bay and Thumb
Harrison (6-0) at Beaverton (4-2)
Harrison already will post its best finish since 1999 and first winning record since 2000 – and is in best position to end Clare’s seven-season run atop the Jack Pine Conference. But the Hornets must be careful to not look ahead to that Week 8 matchup; Beaverton is one of three teams tied for third place and needs just one more victory to guarantee its first winning season since 2000 as well.
Others that caught my eye: Midland (3-3) at Lapeer (6-0), Romeo (3-3) at Port Huron (5-1), Carrollton (3-3) at Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (5-1), Flint Powers Catholic (4-2) at Flint Southwestern Academy (3-3).
Battle Creek St. Philip (6-0) at Waldron (5-1)
The Southern Central 8-Man Football League championship is on the line. St. Philip outscored Waldron by a combined 110-6 in two games last season and has scored, 55, 56, 89 and 72 points over the last four weeks, respectively. But this is a much better Waldron team than in 2013 – its lone loss is to undefeated Portland St. Patrick, and the Spartans look good to win seven games for the first time since 2007.
Others that caught my eye: Engadine (3-3) at Bellaire (6-0), Owendale-Gagetown (6-0) at Kingston (3-3).
PHOTO: Bellaire, running against Eben Junction Superior Central last week, is one of seven undefeated teams in 8-player football. Superior Central is in a tight race for the final playoff spot and must climb six to make the field of 16. (Photo courtesy of Paul Gerard.)
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.)