By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
MENOMINEE – Explaining the continued success of football at Menominee High School is not difficult.
"Football is just work. The kids are willing to work," fourth-year coach Joe Noha said of a simple explanation of a premier program for decades.
The Maroons (9-0) host Grayling (6-3) Friday at venerable Walton Blesch Stadium in a Division 5 opener. Noha, a former Menomninee player and assistant coach under legendary head coach Ken Hofer, is 45-4 since taking over the program.
Menominee was Division 5 runner-up under Noha in 2013 and reached the MHSAA Semifinals the other two seasons. Under Hofer, with Noha as the top assistant, the Maroons won Division 5 titles in 2006 and 2007 and Class BB in 1998.
There is more to this amazing success than simply hard work, something every successful program can also claim.
"We try to put our guys in the best position to have success," Noha said. "We can do a lot of different things."
Again, all successful teams can make that claim.
The Maroons also can point to stability in the coaching staff. Hofer, who retired after the 2011 season, is the all-time leader in victories among Upper Peninsula coaches with a 313-141-2 record. Noha, who graduated from Menominee in 1983 and then played football at Saginaw Valley State University, joined Hofer's staff in 1994.
Assistants like Ron "Satch" Englund, Jamie Schomer, Dave Mathieu, Nathan Linsmeier, Lucas Chouinard, Tyler Uecke, Bill Schwanz and Mark Klapp have also been part of the program for many years, providing stability to that success. Many of them also played for Hofer.
"After every practice we evaluate and look at ways to get better," said Noha, mentioning something else that of course is done across the sports universe.
Noha noted successful operations, referring to Fortune 500 companies, as he said, "everyone has core values. We put kids first, teach them hard work and responsibility (and discipline). Our teaching staff, our community; it is all part of what we do. We always have a support staff to lean on. Our kids know that. They know what the Menominee standard looks like."
He also pointed out, "There is a lot of pride there. We talk about giving back to what was given to you."
Noha also notes a "family mantra" in Menominee. "There is definitely family here, there is definitely community support here, the school supports us. There is not a lot of turnover here. We stick together, we work well together. A lot of people maintain the standard.
"A lot of people have a vested interest."
Again, nothing different from other successful programs.
But here's what is different: The Menominee Maroons do all of those things, and most importantly, perhaps, is it has been like that for nearly half a century.
One other explanation could also be how the Maroons operate on the gridiron. They are one of the very few remaining teams who use a single-wing offense, which makes it difficult for potential playoff opponents to prepare for since it is tough to emulate in practice.
Familiar Upper Peninsula opponents such as Escanaba, Kingsford, Gladstone and Marquette get to see the single-wing every year, as well as at the freshmen and jayvee levels. Grand Rapids West Catholic, which beat the Maroons in the 2013 title game and the 2012 semis, also has a good idea of the single-wing intricacies.
"West Catholic has beaten us because they were better," admitted Noha. "Trying to replicate it in practice is very difficult. You have to execute. It comes down to putting kids in good spots."
The Maroons have obviously modified the single-wing through the years, from fullback spinners to jump passes to bubble screens and fly patterns for receivers. "We can spread it out and we can pound it, but the single-wing concepts are still there,” Noha added.
"Everybody puts their tweaks on everything. If you are defending us, you better know the top three plays in our formations. Everyone's film is your DNA, your template. It is not brain surgery by any means."
It still comes down to other areas. "You have to have the kids, the coaches, and the kids have to be resilient," Noha said. "You can have any system you want."
Talent also comes in handy, and the Maroons again are blessed in that department. Led by quarterback/running back Nathan Nowack, the Maroons fill six defensive positions and five offensive positions on the Great Northern Conference all-star team this fall.
Nowack, who scored seven touchdowns against Gladstone this year, is the GNC's offensive player of the year, and lineman Adam Beyersdorf is the GNC's defensive player of the year.
Noha said changes have been made throughout the 35 years he has been associated with the program, some mandated by the MHSAA such as the reduction of contact in practice and the emphasis on concussions.
"The practices and the schemes stay the same. We look at nutrition more and we don't hit nearly as much as we used to," said Noha, who also indicated weight training has been emphasized much more since he was a player.
"The kids are bigger, stronger, faster and more physically fit. The game is faster, the kids are more skilled and get out in space more," Noha said.
While the Maroons usually boast good size in the line, Noha said the Maroons look more at body composition and how it best suits the players and positions. Many of the players go around the 180-190 pound area and are well-conditioned, solid athletes, he said.
Noha noted the first three playoff games are usually held outdoors, and then the Maroons usually play in the Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University and then hit Ford Field if they reach the title game. He said heavier kids may wilt under the indoor conditions. "We want kids that can run and move," he said.
Menominee's future may look even brighter. After not having a freshmen football team the past four years, Noha said that level will resume in 2016 as 30 freshmen players are anticipated. There were 22 freshmen on the 2015 junior varsity team.
Football is played to be fun for the Maroons, and it is always more fun when you can enjoy success like the Maroons experience. What it all comes down to in Menominee, Noha said, is "the scoreboard never defines us. We try to use football to get us to a better place."
Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.
PHOTOS: (Top) Senior Nathan Nowack (36) follows two of his blockers during this season's game against Marquette. (Middle) Hunter Hass works to avoid a Marquette defender on a rainy night. (Below) A Menominee ball-carrier holds onto the ball as two Marinette, Wis., players tackle him. (Photos courtesy of Val Ihde.)
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.)