Hearts Heavy, St. Mary's Keeps Promise

November 29, 2014

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

DETROIT — The most important football game in Brandon Adams' life suddenly didn't seem so important.

At a time when excitement should've been rising within the Orchard Lake St. Mary's junior, he was holed up in his bedroom, coming to grips with the lowest moment in his young life.

Football? Who cares about something as trivial as football — even a state championship game — when your mother just died two days earlier?

Playing a game may not have been important, but fulfilling a promise to his mother and continuing to live as she would have wished helped him to get up, get out of his room and move forward.

"At first, I didn't think I was going to play this game," said Adams, whose 1-yard run with 5:42 left in the first quarter was the only touchdown in the Eaglets' 7-0 victory over Muskegon in the MHSAA Division 3 Final on Saturday night at Ford Field.

"Thursday, after she passed, I was sitting in my bed at home. My dad walks in and says, 'I don't want you to sit here and sulk,' so I went to practice Friday. We had a team meeting at 1 before our practice at 2. All the guys gave their condolences and said, 'We're not losing this game. We're making a promise to God, to my mom and to the team that we're gonna win,' and we did. I don't know. It's just ..."

Adams' voice trailed off as he held the game ball, standing before reporters and bravely articulating his feelings while still in the midst of grief.

His mother, Katie, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer three months ago. She continued to follow her son's team, all the way up through the Semifinal victory over New Boston Huron just five days before she died on Thanksgiving.

"All the guys came to the hospital, because she was in hospice for her last hours," Adams said. "The one thing she was saying to all the guys was, 'I'm going to watch the game on TV and I want you guys to bring me back the trophy. Well, she's not here, but we did. It was a promise my brothers made to me and to my family and to each other that we would win the game.

"She never missed a game. Even with her chemo, she was sick as a dog and she'd come sit in her car and come watch. This was the first game in my football career she's missed."

In a time of tragedy for the team, St. Mary's coach George Porritt saw inspiration in the way Adams was supported by his teammates.

"The last 48 hours have been a whirlwind," Porritt said. "What's great is watching kids take care of kids when there are tough times. This team rallied behind this kid. Last night was special."

From a football standpoint, Porritt supported Adams by giving him two straight carries after his fumble nearly ended the game's only scoring drive.

Adams broke through the line and appeared primed to scamper into the end zone on a 4-yard run from the 6-yard line, but he lost the ball, only to recover it himself.

Adams got the next carry, moving the ball one yard closer to the end zone, before going untouched around the left side to cap a nine-play, 34-yard drive.

Adams was appreciative of the opportunity to get the next two carries following his fumble.

"My coaches are very persistent on hanging on to the ball," he said. "After that fumble, it's human nature to get down on yourself and hang your head, but my coaches kept preaching, 'Hold your head up, we'll get through it,' and they gave it back to me again. I knew I was going to get into the end zone."

Porritt insisted that Adams wasn't given the chance to bounce back just because he was going through a hard time in his life.

"Sometimes we like the kid to get the ball right away, get it right back in his hands," Porritt said. "We had to have him."

Real life beyond the football field was also the theme for Muskegon as coach Shane Fairfield addressed his players after the Big Reds lost in an MHSAA Final for the third straight year. They lost to Birmingham Brother Rice in the last two Division 2 title games.

"It's not going to be easy," Fairfield told his team. "It hurts. It should hurt, because it means so much. ... We have to continue the pursuit of greatness in our lives."

Adams tempted fate with his early fumble, but wasn't as fortunate in the second quarter. On second-and-goal from Muskegon's 2-yard line, Alezay Coleman popped the ball loose from Adams' grasp and Taron Smith recovered for the Big Reds with 10:53 left in the first half.

Having escaped a possible early 14-0 deficit, Muskegon's offense began to click after its first three possessions resulted in only four yards on eight plays. The Big Reds marched 95 yards in 14 plays, taking 6:56 off the clock, but came away with no points when they also failed to score from the 2-yard line.

Those missed opportunities by each team from the opponents' 2-yard line would be the closest either would come to scoring after the Eaglets opened up with a touchdown.

The defensive standoff was surprising, given the fact St. Mary's averaged 47.5 points and Muskegon 37 in four playoff games.

"You never know what kind of game it's going to be," Porritt said. "We know we have a great defense and they have a great defense. So, that's what happens. The defenses were a little bit better than the offenses today."

The Eaglets nursed their 7-0 lead through a scoreless second half by not allowing Muskegon to get closer than 31 yards from the end zone.

The Big Reds had four possessions after halftime, with two ending in interceptions. Tyler Cochran picked off a pass on the first play of Muskegon's second possession of the third quarter. The key interception came with 6:37 left in the game when Dwayne Chapman came up with an errant pass on fourth-and-three from the St. Mary's 31.

Muskegon would never touch the ball again. St. Mary's ran out the final 6:37 by getting four first downs on a 14-play possession that covered 49 yards. 

When time expired, St. Mary's had its sixth MHSAA title, while the Big Reds had to settle for the runner-up trophy for the third year in a row.

"A lot of teams around Muskegon can't say they've been there three years in a row," Muskegon senior lineman Rowland Sharp II said. "I've been here since my sophomore year. I'm very proud to say I made it to Ford Field. As I go into my career, I'll be able to say, yes, I played at Ford Field; that's an NFL stadium I played in." 

Muskegon's explosive ground game was held to 109 yards on 33 carries. St. Mary's also struggled with its trademark running game, gaining 133 yards on 45 carries.

Click for full statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) Orchard Lake St. Mary’s hoists its Division 3 championship trophy after the final football game of the 2014 MHSAA season Saturday. (Middle) St. Mary’s Josh Ross (5) breaks through the line as Muskegon defenders pursue. (Click for action photos and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS:

BIG REDS GOAL LINE TAKEAWAY - Early in the second quarter, Muskegon forces an Orchard Lake St. Mary's fumble, which is recovered by Alezay Coleman. 

EAGLETS THWART MUSKEGON'S LAST CHANCE - Muskegon's last offensive chance came near the midpoint of the fourth quarter, where on a fourth down play, a Big Reds pass by intercepted by Orchard Lake St. Mary's Dwayne Chapman. The Eaglets then ran out the clock and won the Division 3 championship game, 7-0.

Watch the entire game and order DVDs by Clicking Here.

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“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.

John GuilleanGuillean 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.”

Great anticipation

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.

Derek GriblerGribler 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 ShebestPam 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 pamkzoo@aol.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.)