By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
DETROIT – Harbor Beach always has considered itself a football town. Beginning with its last run to an MHSAA championship game in 1991, the Pirates have amassed six seasons with at least 10 wins – including four over the last decade.
But the 1,600 residents living along that stretch of Lake Huron shoreline now can call it the home of a champion as well.
Harbor Beach claimed its first MHSAA football title Friday, beating two-time champion Beal City 35-10.
Only two years ago, the Pirates were coming off their third straight losing season. But they bounced back with a District title in 2011, and also set a school record for wins this fall finishing 13-1 – guaranteeing this group will be remembered with special regard among the many who have made marks on the program.
“We’re state champions,” Pirates senior Aaron Ginther said. “That’s all I have to say,” leaving junior quarterback Eli Kraft to elaborate.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our team. We lost Sloan earlier in the year, and everybody gave up on us. But what matters is we stuck together and we believe in ourselves, and we believed that if we worked hard every day in practice we could get it.”
“Sloan” is senior running back/linebacker Sloan Klaski. He's 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds and ran for 1,041 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, but was knocked out for this one by an injury on opening night.
That could have knocked the feet out from under Harbor Beach’s title march before it got started. Instead, the Pirates began a stand that carried through the season’s final day.
Harbor Beach’s defense began Friday by showing off that resolve. Beal City took the ball away on an interception barely more than a minute into the game, but gave the ball back on downs when senior nose guard Josh Keyes led a fourth-down pile-up that stopped the Aggies inches from the goalline.
The Pirates held their ground again when Beal City appeared to be gaining steam. Down 28-10 with 1:53 to play in the third quarter, the Aggies were driving to make the game close again and pushed to Harbor Beach’s 2-yard line. But Keyes and junior linebacker DeAndre Ridner stopped an inside run for no gain, and senior defensive end Brandon Oswald chased down the runner on a fourth-down pitch that also failed to reach the end zone.
Five minutes later, junior Colin Cook snagged an interception that effectively ended the game.
Beal City had scored 40 or more points in eight games this fall and never fewer than 25. The Aggies also averaged 372 total yards per game entering the day but gained only 291 in the Final. They became the 10th team to score 10 or fewer points against Harbor Beach – although Schelke said after that his team played above its usual high level to shut down the Aggies.
“The momentum changed when we didn’t get that score at the beginning. It really stoked them up and set us back a little bit,” Beal City coach Lou Rau said.
“We might’ve made three stands. One time we held them to a field goal too, and that felt like a little bit of a victory,” Schelke added.
And his offense did plenty to give the Pirates a cushion.
Kraft, an all-state honorable mention, completed 8 of 13 passes for 168 yards and two scores and ran for 70 yards and another touchdown. His scoring passes set the tone early – the first 54 yards to Ginther and the second 69 yards to junior Travis Essenmacher, both before the end of the first quarter.
Ginther also had 12 tackles at linebacker, and Keyes had 10. Senior defensive end Kyle Kramer had two sacks for the Pirates.
Junior running back Ty Rollin ran for 76 yards and Beal City’s lone touchdown. Junior linebacker Hayden Huber had 13 tackles and sophomore linebacker Alex Schafer had 10. Kicker Paul Anders, a foreign exchange student from Germany playing football for the first time this season, drilled a 30-yard field goal – the first in a Division 8 Final since Climax-Scott’s J Rustenholtz hit a 26-yarder in his team’s 42-8 win over Crystal Falls Forest Park in 2004.
Beal City fell to Forest Park that season in a Semifinal. But the Aggies are used to making this trip – Friday’s was their sixth championship game appearance, with their last title coming in 2009. The Aggies finished 13-1. “Thirteen wins in a season is pretty admirable, and you can’t ask for a better group of guys,” Rau said.
Harbor Beach's community came out in en masse for a Thanksgiving send-off parade that sent chills through Schelke and his players alike. They then followed the Pirates to Ford Field on Friday.
“We are a football town. We have a great tradition at Harbor Beach starting with coach John Jack Dillon that led the team here in '91, and it’s just carried on,” Schelke said. “We’re on a great streak right now with great seniors leading, and we think we have some great players coming from behind. There’s a lot of alumni here that played on great Harbor Beach teams.”
“Our fans are fantastic, and they support us, and they had a blast today.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Harbor Beach senior Derek Pfaff (7) holds up the Division 8 championship trophy to the crowd with teammates Brandon Pfaff (4) and Justin Lasceski. (Middle) Pirates senior Aaron Ginther (47) pulls in a catch with Beal City's Sam Schafer giving chase. (Click for more from Terry McNamara Photography.)
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.)