DETROIT – The final score of the Clarkston-West Bloomfield Division 1 Final might cause many football purists to cringe and scoff in disbelief.
Richardson and his staff should be applauded for the job they did this season. Clarkston may not have been loaded with star power this season, but won its third Michigan High School Athletic Association title by defeating West Bloomfield, 3-2, in the Division 1 final on Saturday at Ford Field.
Clarkston (12-2) also won titles in 2013 and 2014. This was West Bloomfield’s first Finals appearance; the Lakers opened this season 0-2 but rebounded to finish 11-3.
The teams combined for the second-lowest points total in Finals history. In 1987, Ann Arbor Pioneer defeated Detroit Catholic Central, 3-0, in the Class A Final.
The teams also tied a Finals record for the most punts (14), and Clarkston tied the record for most punts (8) by one team.
Clarkston (12-2) finished third in the Oakland Activities Association Red this fall behind West Bloomfield and Rochester Adams, which tied for the division title. West Bloomfield soundly defeated Clarkston, 37-16, in the fourth game of the season, and the Lakers were a sensible pick to win again.
“That’s what these kids have been about all season,” Richardson said. “(They) find a way to win.
“We always talk about turning a negative into a positive. When we got beat by Adams (21-14 on Oct. 6), we changed our run game. When we were (5-2, after Week 8), I reamed the coaches. I thought we were doing a shoddy job. We changed our run game. We became a more power running team.”
Clarkston was never a team that wowed with statistics this season. The Wolves relied on their running game, a strong defense and a good kicking game.
Against West Bloomfield – a team with no fewer than 10 players who have either committed to or received a scholarship offer from a Division I college program – Richardson wanted to shorten the game and win the turnover battle.
In its first game against West Bloomfield, Clarkston committed four turnovers. On Saturday, the Wolves had a 3-0 edge.
“We knew they were going to blitz more,” West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy said. “Defensively, they we’re going to grind it. We had too many penalties (11 for 105 yards). Clarkston was going to shorten the game. Our special teams weren’t special today.”
The first half, and much of the second, was filled with mishaps.
Clarkston, on its second possession, gave up a safety when a fourth-down snap flew over the punter’s head and over the end line.
The Lakers failed to convert a first down on the ensuing possession and their punt went 19 yards, giving Clarkston the ball on West Bloomfield’s 33.
The Wolves did nothing with that gift and lost 10 yards in three plays, and when they punted it went just three yards.
West Bloomfield pieced together the best drive of the half as the Lakers gained three first downs and had a 1st-and-goal at the 5-yard line. But on the next play, Zach Scott grabbed an interception in the end zone.
The longest play of the half was a 35-yard pass from West Bloomfield quarterback Bryce Veasley to A.J. Abbott that gave the Lakers a first down at its 47. On the next play, Cody Hughes recovered a fumble for Clarkston.
Finally, with time running out in the first half, Wolves quarterback Nathan Uballe completed a 15-yard pass to Conner Heaton, and 13 yards was tacked onto that gain as West Bloomfield was called for roughing the passer. With six seconds left, Clarkston opted for a field goal try and Roemer converted from 30 yards out to give the Wolves a 3-2 halftime lead.
That was it for the scoring. Clarkston did its best to work the clock in the second half with its run game, and not make the big mistake.
Clarkston gained 117 yards, 84 on the ground. Its main ball carrier was junior Jacob Billette, who was in the lineup because Clarkston’s best running back, senior Josh Cantu, suffered a knee injury in the Semifinal and was unavailable. Billette rushed for 69 yards on 14 carries.
“We needed someone to run up the middle,” Richardson said. “Billette is a wrestler. He’s a tough kid. He was the answer.”
West Bloomfield had none for Clarkston’s defense. Veasley came in with nearly 3,300 yards and 24 touchdowns passing. On Saturday, he was 15 of 32 for 214 yards and two interceptions, and he was sacked twice.
“We didn’t make enough plays that needed to be made,” Veasley said. “Every time we made a big play, we had a penalty.”
Clarkston blanketed West Bloomfield’s receivers; all are expected to play at a major university. Michael Fluegel, who doubles as a running back and defensive back for Clarkston, said it was a challenge to go against such a talented group.
“All their receivers are really good,” he said. “You just have to make plays. You have to stay with them.”
For Richardson, this was the unlikeliest of titles. His other title teams had some of the state’s top players, like quarterback D.J. Zezula (Wayne State), who threw two touchdown passes in the 2013 Final and passed for one touchdown and ran for another in the 2014 championship game.
“This is very special,” Richardson said. “This team doesn’t have 5-star kids. We don’t have 4-star kids. We’re unselfish. The kids played with a chip on their shoulder. Nobody picked us to win today.”
The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) Clarkston senior Michael Fluegel (30) wraps up West Bloomfield’s Collin Heard during the Division 1 Final. (Middle) Lakers receiver AJ Abbott stretches for a grab over a defender.
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.)