By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
GRASS LAKE – Cameron Darrow remembers the play like it was yesterday.
“It was the third quarter and there was nine minutes left,” the Grass Lake middle linebacker said. “I had 14 tackles in the game already. I came up through the hole and it was raining, and I tackled the running back. As I was lifting him up, my foot got caught in the ground and twisted and popped.”
Darrow broke his ankle in two spots in that game against Addison, which was near the end of his sophomore season. It was a long road back, but the Warriors senior captain made a full recovery. He’s one of the reasons Grass Lake is off to a 2-0 start and has its sights set on a big season.
“We just take it game by game,” Darrow said. “We just want to keep winning. Our goal at the end of every week is to be 1-0.”
The reigning Cascades Conference champions earned a spot in The Associated Press’ Division 6 top 10 poll earlier this week. And going into tonight’s game against East Jackson, the Warriors are in midseason form. Grass Lake beat Stockbridge 58-12 in the season opener and handled Vandercook Lake 51-0 in the first game of league play.
“You can’t argue with how the kids have played,” said 20th-year Grass Lake head coach Randy Cole. “It’s very early in the season, though. We have a long way to go. We just have to keep getting better.”
Over the past six seasons, Cole has employed a high-powered, up-tempo offense. His son Anthony was an assistant coach at Albion College when Cole asked him his thoughts about implementing the offense at Grass Lake. It’s worked.
“It gives us a lot of versatility,” Cole said. “We spread the ball around. We get the ball out quick. It’s fun. The kids like it.”
Grass Lake is used to winning. The Warriors have made the playoffs 13 of the last 14 years and are 145-60, a winning percentage above .700, during Cole’s tenure.
This year’s offense is led by junior quarterback Carson Farley. He’s been dynamite through two weeks, completing 26 of his 30 passes for 440 yards and nine touchdowns. He hasn’t thrown an interception.
“He’s new,” Cole said. “He was our JV quarterback last year. He’s off to a great start. He makes good decisions. He has good knowledge of the offense. We run the same thing on the JV, and he ran it well last year. He knew coming in that he was going to be our quarterback, so he worked hard this summer.”
Farley has spread the ball around. Over just two games, six Warriors have at least one rushing attempt and eight receivers have caught passes. Six of those eight pass-catchers have a touchdown.
“We don’t really have a No. 1 receiver,” Cole said. “We spread it around. We take what the defense gives us.”
Trenton Holden leads the Warriors in rushing with more than 300 yards on nearly 12 yards per carry.
Grass Lake never huddles on offense.
“We don’t even use the word huddle,” Darrow said. “We call it a gathering. The only time we ‘gather’ is late in a game if we are trying to use up the clock.”
On defense, Darrow is the signal-caller from his middle linebacker spot. He’s been in on 24 tackles over two games – credited with 20 solo tackles and four assists. He has three tackles for loss and one sack.
“He’s the guts and glue of our defense,” said Cole.
Grass Lake’s No. 1 goal, as usual, is to win the Cascades Conference. After that, the Warriors are hoping to make a deeper run in the playoffs. Last season they started 8-0 before losing to eventual Division 8 champion Reading in the Week 9 Big 8 Conference crossover game 55-7 and then to Cascades foe Michigan Center 35-6 in the first round of the playoffs.
“We were humbled,” Darrow said. “We really wanted to be the third team in Grass Lake history to go 9-0 in the regular season, but we just fell short. We definitely have that in the back of our minds. We want revenge and want to make it further in the playoffs.”
During the winter and summer workouts, Darrow said, those two losses were motivation for the Warriors players.
“We had 30 to 40 kids there lifting all summer,” he said. “We talked about those losses. We want to be better this year.”
Darrow, who is one of three team captains along with Gage Lee and Shane Holcomb, said this year’s Warriors are a tight group.
“We play for each other,” he said. “We all have the same goals. We’ve been playing together since the third grade and we just love football. When I was coming back from my injury last year, everyone lifted me up and helped me get back. Not coming back wasn’t an option. I love football too much.
“Football is a brotherhood. We play for each other.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Cameron Darrow is back leading the Grass Lake defense this season. (Middle) Carson Farley looks downfield for a receiver (Photos courtesy of Amy Farley.)
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.)