By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
DETROIT — When Jarrett Mathison was told he wouldn't be Marine City's quarterback this season, he could've taken the news the wrong way.
He could've been selfish about losing the marquee position on the football team. He could've sulked, becoming a disruptive force on the team. He could've complained to his parents, who in turn could've made life miserable for coach Ron Glodich and his staff.
Instead, Mathison handled the change with a team-first attitude, even though he had no clue what his role would be with the Mariners.
"There wasn't really a decision until about a week before our first game," Mathison said. "They told me I was going to play fullback. I said, 'OK. I don't care. I'm playing. I've got to do what I've got to do to help the team out.'"
As it turned out, Mathison got even more action this season than he did a year ago when he was the sophomore quarterback for an 8-2 team.
He starred in all three phases of the game, leading Marine City to a 49-35 victory over defending-champion Grand Rapids South Christian in the MHSAA Division 4 championship game Friday at Ford Field.
Mathison intercepted two passes, returned the opening kickoff of the second half 91 yards for a touchdown, and ran 18 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
"We had to tell him he could be a benefit on both sides of the ball," Glodich said. "That gamble paid off tonight. He's a warrior. He was better at the end of the game than the beginning of the game."
Mathison never expected to have such an active role in Marine City's success after the quarterback position was turned over to junior Alex Merchant, who was 10 for 12 for 208 yards and three touchdowns against South Christian.
"I thought I was just going to be a person filling in," said Mathison, who scored 32 touchdowns this season. "It just came out for the better. Everything happens for a reason."
Senior Pete Patsalis caught all three touchdown passes for the Mariners, grabbing five passes for 142 yards. Marine City scored on seven straight full possessions, not including a one-play series in which it ran out the clock following a South Christian touchdown with 12 seconds left in the first half.
The score was tied 21-21 at halftime when Mathison gave Marine City a huge lift to start the second half. A series of fake handoffs on a kick return that fooled nobody the first time the Mariners tried it worked wonders this time around. Mathison received the kick, turned his back toward the Sailors and faked the ball to three teammates before taking off and getting in the clear.
"The big kickoff return took the wind out of us a bit," South Christian coach Mark Tamminga said. "That was a huge momentum swing there. Give all the credit to them. That's a heck of a football team. We got beat by a better football team."
Still, South Christian was in the game when quarterback Jon Wassink scored from one yard out on fourth-and-goal to tie the game 28-28 with 6:04 left in the third quarter.
The Sailors couldn't stop the Mariners' offense, however. A 65-yard touchdown pass from Merchant to Patsalis with 5:11 left in the third quarter put Marine City ahead to stay. A 1-yard run by Mathison made it a 14-point game.
South Christian got within 42-35 with plenty of time left when Wassink hit Eric VanVoorst with a 19-yard touchdown pass with 10:04 remaining, but Marine City ground out a 12-play, 75-yard drive that consumed 6:15 to get some breathing room. A 20-yard pass from Merchant to Patsalis capped the drive with 3:45 left.
"We told the kids, 'You stay with them until the fourth quarter, then I guarantee you you'll have more in your tank than they do,'" Glodich said.
History was made in this game, as Marine City junior Olivia Viney became the first girl to play in an MHSAA Final. Viney did more than just play, going 7 for 7 on extra points to tie a Finals record for most extra points in a game. Paul Gross of Jackson Lumen Christi also was 7 for 7 in the 2001 Division 5 Final against Livonia Clarenceville.
"I really wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be," Viney said. "My team did a really good job of keeping everyone calm, keeping their heads on their shoulders. I was totally prepared mentally and physically."
Viney finished the season 61 for 65 on extra points, breaking the Marine City mark of 59 extra points in a season. She also had a 30-yard field goal.
"I couldn't do it without my team," she said. "I couldn't score an extra point unless we get touchdowns. Our snapper, our holder, our offensive line — I couldn't do it without them."
The tone for the high-scoring game was set just 58 seconds in, as Wassink hit VanVoorst with a 52-yard touchdown pass to give South Christian a 7-0 lead.
That was the only score of the first quarter, but the pace picked up in the second quarter, with the teams combining for five touchdowns to go into halftime tied at 21-21.
Mathison's 1-yard run put Marine City on the board with 10:28 left in the second quarter.
A 39-yard pass from Merchant to Patsalis with 7:12 left in the second quarter gave the Mariners a 14-7 lead.
Wassink's 50-yard option keeper with 5:36 left in the second quarter tied it 14-14. Tait Sapienza answered for Marine City with an 18-yard touchdown run with 2:05 to go in the half.
South Christian tied it 12 seconds before halftime when Wassink threw a low 8-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Haan, who was able to trap the ball between his legs as he fell across the goal line.
Wassink, a junior two-year starter who missed last year's championship game after breaking his collarbone in the Semifinal, was 18-for-38 for 240 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Sapienza ran 17 times for 123 yards and a touchdown for Marine City (13-1), which won its other MHSAA title in 2007.
"They were more physical than us," Tamminga said. "When you control both sides of the line of scrimmage, you're going to win a lot of football games."
PHOTOS: (Top) Marine City's Joe Mazure (88) hauls in a pass during Friday's Final. (Middle) Grand Rapids South Christian quarterback Jon Wassink breaks away for a gain. (Click to see 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 email@example.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.)