By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Drake Harris may not have expected the full force of the performance he put up Saturday to cap an incredible junior season for Grand Rapids Christian.
But he had a pretty good idea at the start that it could turn into a special night.
When Orchard Lake St. Mary’s attempted to cover him with just one player – and continued to do so frequently throughout the Division 3 Final at Ford Field – the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Harris found himself in a dream come true.
“I kinda figured they would come out like that and play me like that. My coach knew that, and he just put me in the right position to make plays,” Harris said. “And I was happy they came out like that.
“I’m not the type to brag on myself. But when I see that, man-to-man coverage, that’s my dream. I love when people go man, and no safety over the top. It’s just me and the DB. The better man wins.”
Harris gets a Second Half High 5 this week after probably the most victorious day in his young career.
He grabbed eight passes for an MHSAA Finals record 243 yards and a touchdown as the Eagles beat St. Mary’s 40-37 in overtime to claim their first football championship.
Saturday’s numbers gave him, unofficially, 91 catches for 2,015 yards and 25 scores this fall. While those totals still must be confirmed for record book purposes, the yardage will be the most in MHSAA history for one season and rank 12thnationally. His yards per game this fall will rank fourth nationally and his yards per catch sixth. His catches will rank fourth in MHSAA history and his touchdown catches second.
Harris has committed to sign next fall with Michigan State for basketball and then the following February for football too. He’s expected to do big things again this winter for a Grand Rapids Christian basketball team that advanced to the Class A Quarterfinals last season.
Hoops always was his sport – he wasn't sure at one point that he’d even play football in high school. But Harris said Spartans men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo told him he loves players who are on their football teams as well. And Harris said he is starting to realize his football future might be the brighter of the two.
Saturday couldn't have hurt that observation.
Harris caught passes of 49 and 22 yards before hauling in a 74-yard scoring strike early in the second quarter. He had an 85-yarder called back during the third quarter, but caught passes of 24 and 38 yards to set up a touchdown early in the fourth. He then caught his final three passes during the team’s final possession of regulation, gaining a total of 36 yards in helping to set up Joel Schipper’s 28-yard game-tying field goal with four seconds left.
One catch will live on in Finals memory for years to come. In the fourth quarter, Harris went so high as to nearly jump over his defensive back. The defender tackled his legs mid-air, dumping Harris back-first into the turf. But Harris held on, and the Eagles continued to move.
After gaining more than 1,000 yards receiving as a sophomore too, Harris will need only 609 as a senior to set that MHSAA career record. He needs 66 catches and four for touchdowns to tie those records. And if a record was kept for highlight-reel catches, he might already be the holder.
“People don’t necessarily think he’s tough or something. But to have a guy go up 3-4 feet in the air and get flipped, catch the ball and land on his back or head; that’s pretty tough in my book,” Grand Rapids Christian senior quarterback Alex VanDeVusse said. “I’d take him on my team every single day. He’s amazing.”
PHOTO: Drake Harris went high to make this grab during the fourth quarter of Saturday's Division 3 Final against Orchard Lake St. Mary's. (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 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.)