By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
DETROIT — A funny thing happened on Drake Harris’ way to hoops stardom.
He discovered he’s even greater on the gridiron.
The junior wide receiver didn’t intend to play high school football at Grand Rapids Christian, but now figures that’s his meal ticket in college — and perhaps beyond — after a record-breaking season that culminated with an epic performance in the MHSAA Division 3 championship game against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
Harris made three clutch catches in the final eight minutes to keep scoring drives alive and finished with a MHSAA Finals record of 243 yards on eight catches in the Eagles’ 40-37 overtime victory Saturday night at Ford Field.
Twice on the game-tying drive, Harris made leaping catches on fourth down. His 7-yarder on fourth-and-three and 15-yarder on fourth-and-eight set up a 28-yard field goal by Joel Schipper with four seconds left in the fourth quarter.
After the Eagles stopped St. Mary’s on fourth-and-three on the first series of overtime, Schipper came out on first down and kicked the championship-clinching 27-yard field goal.
In the process, Harris became only the 12th player nationally and first from Michigan to rack up 2,000 receiving yards for one season. He finished the season with 2,016.
“It’s a great achievement for me,” Harris said. “I have to thank the quarterback, the line and my coaching staff for putting me in the right position to make plays. All I care about is that state championship.”
It's the first for Grand Rapids Christian, which also made its first MHSAA Final appearance and finished this fall 13-1. St. Mary's, last season's Division 3 champion, ended 11-3.
Harris had hoop dreams coming into high school, figuring he would specialize in basketball to enhance his college opportunities. After getting talked into playing football by Eagles coach Don Fellows, Harris discovered a hidden talent. He wound up making a verbal commitment last summer to Michigan State to play both sports, but football may eventually win out.
“I never realized the talent I had for football,” the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Harris said. “I’m putting it all together. I’m going to keep working hard to achieve my goals.
“(MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo) loves players that play football. He told me that. He encouraged me. He’s with me with the whole situation and loves that I play football. I’m kind of starting to lean more towards football. I just feel like I’m probably better in football and that I can go further in football.”
Grand Rapids Christian quarterback Alex VanDeVusse was 16 for 26 for 307 yards and a touchdown, but deflected any credit for his performance to his outstanding wide receiver. VanDeVusse noted that a couple of Harris’ catches late in the game came on passes that would’ve eluded the grasp of most high school receivers.
“He makes me look really, really good,” VanDeVusse said. “Balls that are behind him, he slows down and catches it with one hand if he has to. Balls that are too high, he jumps and gets flipped. People don’t necessarily think he’s tough or something, but to have a guy go three or four feet in the air to get flipped, catch the ball and land on his back and his head, he’s pretty tough in my book. I’ll take him on my team every single day. He’s amazing.”
VanDeVusse looked to Harris in every clutch situation, of which there were several in a wild fourth quarter.
“We joke around that he’s our toy,” VanDeVusse said. “If you have a toy, you’re going to want to play with it all the time. We use him a lot and he does every bit that we ask of him.”
The Eaglets knew that Harris would be targeted when Grand Rapids Christian needed a big play, but even double coverage couldn’t stop him.
“He makes you shift,” St. Mary’s coach George Porritt said. “You have to bring more people to him. You can’t guard him with one. It might leave somebody else open. He forces you to bring two, maybe three.”
A 42-yard run by VanDeVusse gave Grand Rapids Christian a 20-7 lead with 4:42 left in the first half, but St. Mary’s rallied behind a ground game that rolled up 459 yards to take its first lead at 30-27 with 9:37 left in the fourth quarter.
Harris made a 38-yard catch on third-and-27 with 8:00 remaining, one play before a 32-yard touchdown run by Seth McIntosh put the Eagles ahead 34-30 with 7:45 to go.
St. Mary’s then marched 80 yards in 12 plays to grab a 37-34 lead with 2:06 left on a 3-yard run by Grant Niemiec.
Harris made four catches for 47 yards on the ensuing drive, which culminated in Schipper’s game-tying field goal.
St. Mary’s got the ball first in overtime. A pass by Matt Linehan intended for running back Parker McInnis in the end zone fell incomplete on fourth-and-three.
Grand Rapids Christian didn’t hesitate to bring in Schipper to end the game with his right foot on first down.
“I knew it was a big kick starting off, but I just tried to block it all out,” Schipper said. “It felt just like at practice. Coach puts a lot of pressure on us during the week so these situations don’t come as big in the games. That really helped me. I’m just glad I could get the win for the team tonight.
“He’s got the whole team screaming in my ear in practice when I’m trying to make field goals. That really helps in this environment.”
St. Mary’s lost, despite setting a finals record with 579 yards of total offense. The teams combined for a record 1,033 yards.
McInnis ran 25 times for 269 yards, while Niemiec carried 28 times for 168 yards and three touchdowns for St. Mary’s.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Christian receiver Drake Harris runs away from two Orchard Lake St. Mary's defenders for some of his record-breaking yardage Saturday. (Middle) The Eagles celebrate their first MHSAA championship. (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.)