By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
DETROIT – Logan Hessbrook started at quarterback for Ithaca’s junior varsity last season as a sophomore, and probably would start for a few hundred teams that don't have the luxury of all-state quarterbacks every season.
But neither takes away from the fact that he’d taken only one or two reps at the position during the last four weeks of practice. With junior superstar Travis Smith behind center, there really wasn't a need.
So when Smith was injured on his team's second play of Friday’s MHSAA Division 6 Final at Ford Field, his coach and top receiver were quick to offer encouragement.
“I said, ‘Listen bud. Travis isn't coming back,’” Ithaca coach (and Logan’s uncle) Terry Hessbrook said. “’We’re going to live and die with you. Just play the way you’re capable of playing.’”
Senior Markes Gadlen – a three-year starting receiver and the third-string quarterback – also took Logan aside. “I can’t see over the line,” Gadlen told him, “so I was just letting him know he’s all we've got.”
And Hessbrook was more than enough.
Ithaca won its third straight MHSAA title – with a third quarterback leading the way – by downing Constantine 37-27. It was the second straight season the teams met in the championship game.
And Hessbrook was the most unlikely of heroes. Sure, he’s a starting defensive back. But in his number 26 jersey, he couldn't have looked more out of place running the offense – until he led it to four straight scores to break the game open midway through the fourth quarter.
“I was obviously nervous at the beginning, but I settled in as the game went on, and my teammates kept picking me up,” Hessbrook said. “They were saying you’re all right, we can help you, we can pick you up. The linemen did a great job blocking, the receivers did a good job blocking on the edge, and they ran good routes. We just did what we could do.”
The win also gave Ithaca its third straight 14-0 season. That streak of 42 straight victories is fourth in MHSAA history and two from tying for second. It’s also second and one win shy of the longest streak among those that took place entirely within the playoff era that began in 1975.
The Yellowjackets have beaten opponents by an average of 37 points over those games. And this season, they scored their most points (675, good for third-most in MHSAA history) and gave up their fewest (110) of the streak. But this game had all the signs of a streak buster.
“This might be the toughest game we've ever been a part of,” Terry Hessbrook said. “We haven’t faced a lot of adversity during this run. And a lot of our games have been over in the second or the third quarter. For these players to continue to fight the way they (were), I can’t put it into words and I can’t express how proud I am of the way they just kept fighting.”
Smith was hurt on a four-yard run on his team’s second play from scrimmage. But after that and despite his sizable absence, this rematch began playing out a lot like the teams' matchup in 2011.
Like last season, Ithaca and Constantine went into halftime tied – this time 20-20. And like last season, Ben Mallo and the Falcons’ run game was doing just about everything they wanted.
That’s hardly rare – the team ran for 6,407 yards on the season. And in this game, Constantine ran for 287 yards during the first half, and Mallo had 147. But after the Yellowjackets reviewed their assignments during halftime, the Falcons added only 130 more yards over the final two quarters.
And Logan Hessbrook looked like yet another star Ithaca quarterback. After completing just 2 of 5 passes this season heading into the game, he hit 7 of 13 for 104 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 113 yards and two more scores.
“ We've struggled all year stopping people defensively. So when we game-planned to stop Ithaca, it wasn't to stop Travis Smith, so to speak,” Constantine coach Shawn Griffith said. “They did step up, I think, and show the ability to run a little bit better than we thought they were capable of doing when we came into the game. And they still hit the big pass when they needed to. You don’t win 42 straight football games because of one good football player. You've got to have a stable of them, and he’s got quite a few.”
While Ithaca’s second-half possessions amounted to 17 points, Constantine’s turned into seven – and included a turnover on downs, a lost fumble and a punt that was blocked by senior Tyler Gibson and eventually led to a field goal.
Constantine did end up with 504 total yards. Mallo ran for 207 and a touchdown – and had 12 tackles at linebacker – and sophomore Justin Hull added 102 yards and a score on the ground. Senior Tommy Reed, who didn't get to play quarterback in last season’s Final because of an injury, ran for a score and had 10 tackles at safety.
The Falcons finished 11-3 and made their run after finishing third in the Kalamazoo Valley Association.
“We were all seniors, and we all wanted to get back. We didn't want football to end, because for most of us this is our last chance,” Reed said. “Once the playoffs came, we finally started playing as a team. Our defense picked up and our offense continued to roll.
“To get back here, we had a couple turnovers that went our way, and we were able to convert on every turnover. This game was the opposite. We had a couple of turnovers and we couldn't convert, and the one we turned over to them they ended up converting. That’s what hurt us.”
Senior Jared Evers ran for one score and caught a pass for another for Ithaca. Senior Josh Capen had a team-high 10 tackles.
PHOTOS: (Top) Ithaca quarterback Logan Hessbrook (26) eludes Constantine defenders during one of his runs Friday. (Middle) Ithaca receiver Markes Gadlen hauls in a touchdown pass midway through the second quarter. (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.)