March to Marquette: 8-Player Preview

November 22, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

For the second straight season, the majority of teams making the trip to the 8-Player Finals at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome will come seeking their first MHSAA football championship.

Colon, Suttons Bay and Pickford will be first-time title hopefuls Saturday. Portland St. Patrick is seeking its first football title since 1992, long before any of these current players was born.

Kickoff for the Division 1 game is 11 a.m., with the Division 2 game following at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $10 and one is good for admittance to both games. Both games also will be broadcast live on and the FOX Sports app, and replayed on FOX Sports Detroit’s primary channel on Nov. 26 – Division 1 at 8 p.m. and Division 2 at 11 p.m. Audio of both games will be streamed live on

Below is a look at all four finalists. Team “rankings” are based on their playoff-point averages heading into the postseason.

Division 1

 12-0, No. 2
Coach: Robbie Hattan, fourth season (28-13)
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association A
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 27-8 over No. 6 Morrice in Semifinal, 56-12 over No. 3 Martin in Regional Final, 60-12 (Pre-Regional) and 55-0 over No. 13 Camden-Frontier, 43-8 over No. 11 Bellevue, 42-0 over Division 2 No. 5 Climax-Scotts.
Players to watch: RB/DL Brandon Crawford, 6-2/240, jr. (1,491 yards/22 TDs rushing); SL/DB/P Jonathan West, 6-2/160, sr. (653 yards/7 TDs rushing, 498 yards/12 TDs receiving); QB/DB Phillip Alva, 5-9/140, sr. (954 yards/19 TDs passing, 903 yards/17 TDs rushing).
Outlook: Colon moved to 8-player before the 2018 season after a nice recent run in 11-player that had included eight playoff appearances over the previous 14 seasons. But the Magi have succeeded at a higher level since making the switch, putting up double-digit wins last season for the first time and again this fall. Last season’s champion Morrice was the first opponent to hold Colon to under 34 points and also the first to come within 34 of catching the Magi this fall. Crawford and West both earned all-state honorable mentions in 2018, and 6-4 junior Brayden Ireland gives Alva another big target in the passing game. West also has scored off interceptions and punt and kickoff returns this season.

 12-0, No. 4
Coach: Garrick Opie, second season (21-2)
League finish: First in Midwest Central Michigan Conference West
Championship history: Division 6 runner-up 2004 (11-player).
Best wins: 45-14 over No. 8 Kingston in Semifinal, 36-30 over No. 14 Gaylord St. Mary in Regional Final, 36-14 over No. 16 Brimley in Pre-Regional, 20-14 and 29-18 over Division 2 No. 9 Onekama.
Players to watch: RB/DB Lucas Mikesell, 5-11/175, sr. (1,259 yards/29 TDs rushing, 501 yards/9 TDs receiving), QB/DB Bryce Opie, 6-4/194, sr. (1,167 yards/15 TDs passing, 692 yards/13 TDs rushing); OG/DT Gavyn Shananaquet, 6-0/230, sr.
Outlook: Suttons Bay has run its record over three seasons of 8-player to a combined 28-6 after being forced to end its final 11-player season early in 2016. The Norsemen had only three games decided by single digits this fall. The first was a six-point win over Onekama, and Suttons Bay won the rematch by 11, and the other two were against Gaylord St. Mary – a one-point loss on the field that became a forfeit win and a six-point win in the Regional Final. The defense has been especially impressive, giving up 16.7 points per game on the season but more than 18 only twice (both times to St. Mary). Bryce Opie also has five interceptions, and the team had a 23-14 turnover advantage heading into last week’s Semifinal.

Division 2

 12-0, No. 3
Coach: Patrick Russman, 13th season (88-48) 
League finish: Does not play in a league. 
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2017 (8-player), Class D champion 1992, runner-up 1991 and 1997 (11-player). 
Best wins: 49-6 over No. 5 Climax-Scotts in Semifinal, 51-16 over No. 11 Kinde North Huron in Regional Final, 45-0 over No. 16 Bay City All-Saints in Pre-Regional, 42-24 over No. 9 Onekama. 
Players to watch: RB/DL Ned Smith, 5-10/195, sr. (1,510 yards/24 TDs rushing); QB/DB Connor Cross, 6-2/175, jr. (1,688 yards/36 TDs passing); WR/DB Zach Spitzley, 6-2/180, sr. (1,133 yards/19 TDs receiving). 
Outlook: The Shamrocks have made at least the Semifinals the last three seasons and four times since switching to 8-player in 2012, and this has been their most successful run of all four. St. Patrick has won all of its games by at least 18 points (not counting a 2-0 forfeit in Week 3) and by an average score of 52-10. Senior linebacker Alex Kissane, sophomore linebacker Derec Fedewa, senior defensive back Riley Kissane and senior lineman Jeff Davlin are among leaders of a defense that has given up more than 16 points only twice and a combined 22 points over three playoff games.

11-1, T-No. 1
Coach: Josh Rader, 16th season (110-55)
League finish: First in Great Lakes Eight Conference East
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2018 (8-player).
Best wins: 22-14 over T-No. 1 Powers North Central in Regional Finals, 40-8 over No. 4 Hillman in Semifinal, 57-12 (Pre-Regional) and 58-15 over No. 6 Engadine, 48-16 over No. 7 Crystal Falls Forest Park, 64-20 over No. 12 Cedarville, 46-23 over Division 1 No. 14 Gaylord St. Mary.
Players to watch: QB/LB Jimmy Storey, 6-0/185, sr. (1,400 yards/19 TDs passing, 1,809 yards/24 TDs rushing); TE/DE Nick Edington, 6-7/220, sr. (307 yards/3 TDs receiving); RB/DB Stephen Lamothe, 5-10/175, sr. (752 yards/11 TDs rushing, 813 yards/11 TDs receiving).
Outlook: After reaching last season’s Division 1 championship game with a junior-heavy roster, Pickford is back playing for its first Finals championship with many of the same standouts. Edington, Storey and senior lineman Isaiah May all made the all-state team last season, and Storey was the statewide Player of the Year for 8-player by The Associated Press. The team’s only loss this fall came in Week 3, by six points, to Powers North Central – and the Panthers avenged the defeat in the Regional Final. The Jets also were the only team able to hold Pickford under 40 points this fall. Senior running back Isaac Brown provides another valuable option on offense with 613 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing.

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for

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 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.)