Lawrence Completes Turnaround with Title

November 21, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

GREENVILLE – Derek Gribler was a sophomore at the Lawrence school board meeting two years ago when it was decided the Tigers would try 8-player football the following fall.

Although the team had finished a combined 1-17 the previous two seasons, playing mostly bigger schools with multiple freshmen trying to match much larger seniors, there was skepticism. Some simply didn’t like the move. 

Friday night, it was hard to imagine a better fit.

Counting on a variety of skill players and a speedy defense necessary to succeed in the 8-player game, Lawrence finished its second season after the switch as an MHSAA champion with a 56-12 win over Cedarville at Legacy Field. 

Often, successful groups growing up anticipate success at the varsity level. But the Tigers didn’t give championships a thought during their struggles only a few seasons ago.

“Not a single second. Not in any of those practices, not in any of those games,” said Lawrence senior linebacker Jimmy Phelps, like Gribler a four-year varsity player. “Being a 14-year-old kid in a conference where you’d get 60 kids going out for a team; you’re a 14-year-old boy going against 18-year-old men for four quarters every day.

“Football always was my favorite sport, (but) there’s a time you see your rivals in conference and you’re going up against 6-(foot)-2, 200-pound kids and you’re 14-years old and 5-2, 135 pounds. It’s not really fun when those guys hit your guts.”

Moving to 8-player appears to have swung the advantage far into Lawrence’s favor.

The Tigers finished this fall 12-0 and 21-3 over their two seasons of 8-player football, becoming the first team in MHSAA history to win both 8 and 11-player football titles. Lawrence won the Class DD 11-player championship in 1997, but before 2013 hadn’t had a winning season since 2007.

Gribler, a running back before this fall, became over the last four months perhaps the most impressive standout in the MHSAA’s brief history of the 8-player format.

He followed up last week’s six touchdown passes and three touchdown runs against reigning champion Peck with three rushing and two passing scores against the Trojans. Gribler ran for 103 yards on just 12 carries and completed 11 of 14 pass attempts for 256 yards Friday, and for the season he threw for 2,599 yards and 42 touchdowns and ran for 1,704 yards and 24 scores. 

With only three seasons against which to compare, Lawrence setting three MHSAA 8-Player Final offensive records might not seem as impressive. But they’re marks that could stand for a while – 23 first downs, 341 yards rushing and 597 total yards.

Lawrence coach Cody Caswell came into 8-player with a spread offense background and has built a network of 8-player coaches including contacts in Oklahoma and Idaho. He tailored the offense this year to allow Gribler to read and make decisions on the fly on nearly every play. 

Gribler ran four yards for the team’s first score just 1:06 into the game, and added two more scoring runs and a 27-yard touchdown pass to senior Mike Cammire as the Tigers built a 28-6 lead by the end of the first quarter. Cammire finished with six catches for 110 yards and junior running back Hunter Coombs helped set the tone with 127 yards and two touchdowns on only six rushes.

Meanwhile, the Lawrence defense spent much of the night chasing Cedarville senior quarterback Joey Duncan and forcing him to throw on the run. Cedarville gained only 276 yards and turned the ball over three times. Its 12 points were a season low. 

The Tigers finished with a school-record five shutouts under the direction of coordinator Aaron Amthor, and forced 39 turnovers while giving the ball away only five times.

“We believed we had the best defense in the state along with the best offense in the state. We didn’t go in like, ‘I wonder how this is going to go.‘ We thought we should stop them,” Caswell said. “Our motto all year was ‘fast and physical,’ and that’s what they do” 

Cedarville had made the 11-player playoffs seven straight seasons before moving to 8-player in 2011. But the Trojans had fallen short of high playoff expectations the last three years, finishing all three with losses to teams they had beaten during the regular season.

Friday’s Final appearance was the program’s first, and its 11 wins this fall a team record. 

Duncan threw for 125 yards and a touchdown and ran for 58 more yards. Senior running back Mike Bailey ran for 84, and senior receiver Brad Causley caught seven passes for 95 yards. Senior Blake Melvin ran for a score, and junior Mike Haske caught the other.

Duncan and Causley also played significant roles on the basketball team’s run to the Class D Semifinals in March, and that experience paid off the last four weeks. 

“It definitely helped our mindset. We’re used to winning, used to tournament time, and that helped us compose ourselves in big games,” Duncan said. “This year, we knew we had something special. We had a feeling that we were not going to lose, not give up. It definitely was a good mountain to overcome, and hopefully for years to come they can keep the winning going.”

Click for full game statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) Lawrence’s Derek Gribler drags a Cedarville defensive player into the end zone on one of his three scoring runs. (Middle) Cedarville’s Brad Causley works to get past Tigers defenders. (Below) Lawrence coach Cody Caswell talks with his team after Friday’s championship victory.

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.)