Ben VanSumeren doesn’t get much rest during Essexville Garber football games.
Not that he wants or needs it.
“I worked out twice a day throughout the summer because I knew I would be playing every down,” the do-it-all senior said. “I think I’ve sat out two plays the whole season. One, I had a 60-yard touchdown, then I ran in the two-point conversion, and I’m the kicker, so they didn’t have me kick (the ensuing kickoff).
“I just love playing football.”
VanSumeren is going to have plenty of opportunity to continue playing the game he loves. He‘s a Division I tight end and linebacker prospect with scholarship offers from 11 college programs – Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Cincinnati, Air Force, Columbia, Eastern Michigan, Harvard, Missouri, Navy, Yale and Minnesota.
He’s had significant interest from others, including Purdue, where he plans to take an official visit in the coming weeks.
His combination of size (6-foot-3, 228 pounds) and athleticism (a 4.56-second 40-yard dash and a 40-inch vertical jump) make him an obvious DI candidate, and in case you wondered if those numbers were inflated, his Nike SPARQ score (rating his athleticism based on a series of fitness tests) of 127.74 ranks him No. 10 in the nation among all prospects and No. 1 among tight ends.
“The first thing that comes to mind on Ben is he’s a freak athlete,” Garber coach Jake Coquillard said. “I think being at a small school and in mid to northern Michigan doesn’t do him justice or get his name out there the way other people would downstate. I think he would have more schools on him, to be honest.
“But his work ethic is absolutely off the charts. He has a constant will to be better, which as a coach, I don’t know if I’ll ever have another kid that works and wants to have perfection as much as him, and that means in the game of football, in the weight room or in life. He’s a special, special young man.”
Coquillard believes VanSumeren’s greatest potential is on the offensive side of the ball, as he fits the mold of a prototypical receiving tight end. But defense, which is fairly new for him this season, has come pretty naturally, too.
“A lot of the big Power 5 schools have wanted him for defense,” Coquillard said. “He didn’t play much defense last year and he didn’t even have film. But they look at him at 6-3, 224 to 230 and they’re thinking backer. This year he is playing outside linebacker for us and doing a good job. He’s definitely not afraid to come get you.”
Playing at the Division I college level is something VanSumeren has known he was capable of since the sixth grade – not because of anything he had done, but because it was something he decided he wanted to do.
“It was just something I wanted, and once I get something in my head that I want, I’m going to work endlessly to get there,” he said.
His first offer came from Western Michigan University this past February, and he committed to sign with the Broncos shortly after. He de-committed in the spring after recording his jaw-dropping SPARQ score, telling MLive at the time that he wanted to evaluate all of his options and be up front with the Western coaches.
Offers started trickling in throughout the spring and summer, and college coaches were going out of their way to find the 550-student school in Bay County and pay him visits. There they were able to watch him on the baseball diamond, where he’s a standout centerfielder.
“It’s really humbling to know that six months ago I was without any offers or much college attention,” VanSumeren said. “Now I have the No. 1 SPARQ score and people are looking at Essexville Garber -- coaches are coming in asking where Essexville is.”
VanSumeren and Coquillard also have been proactive in contacting college coaches.
“We’ve contacted about every coach and program that we possibly could,” Coquillard said. “I think him being the No. 1-rated tight end as far as scores go at the Nike Opening (combine) put his name out there. We sent tape or tried to get with (coaches) on the phone to get his name out there. He is from a small school. We always say that if you’re good enough, they’ll find you. But sometimes they get lost in the shuffle, too.”
With him trying to raise his profile, one could forgive VanSumeren for focusing solely on tight end and linebacker in his senior season. He’s done anything but that, however.
He’s played quarterback and running back for the Dukes (1-2). He’s also the kicker and the punter.
“That’s the type of person he is,” Coquillard said. “A couple games ago, we had him at quarterback and running back to try and get him the ball. He even said, ‘Coach, I think you need to move me around. I’m a team guy, and we need to get the other guys the ball, too.’
“He’s a very unselfish young man. He’s about the team, and he loves playing all the different positions. As athletically gifted as he is, I think it’s an awesome thing on his part to be willing to do that.”
In VanSumeren’s eyes, moving from position to position is a win-win.
“I’m just about the team, and if the team is going to benefit from it and if the defense can’t adjust, that’s what I’m going to do,” VanSumeren said. “And I think colleges like seeing that. I think versatility is big for colleges.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Essexville Garber’s Ben VanSumeren follows his blockers during a Week 2 loss to Bridgeport. (Middle) VanSumeren makes a move upfield. (Photos courtesy of the Essexville Garber football program.)
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.)