MHSA(Q&)A: Mendon football coach John Schwartz

February 2, 2012

John Schwartz didn’t really want the Mendon football head coaching job when a group of players convinced him to take it before the 1989 season. And his first contract started out on a napkin. The rest is history.

Mendon won its 11th MHSAA football championship this fall, downing Fowler 33-0 in the Division 8 Final, to tie for third-most football titles won by one program. Schwartz has coached in the program for all 11, including 10 as head coach, and his record of 236-39 gives him a winning percentage of .858, tops in the MHSAA record book. He recently was selected as this year’s recipient of the high school Duffy Daugherty Award, annually given for career contributions to the game. He follows recent winners Ralph Munger of Rockford and Herb Brogan of Jackson Lumen Christi.

His Mendon teams have had just one losing season. And although he retired a year ago after 36 teaching middle school science, and then fought off cancer over the summer, he has no plans to leave his post on the Hornets’ sideline.

How would you characterize your program?

I think we have very good coaches and I think the kids respect the coaches, and they know the coaches think more of them than just being football players. They care about them. We have their attention, and what we really try to do is form a team concept as soon as we can. We try to stay away from giving any one person too much recognition. We don't give out MVP awards at the end of the year. It's a program where we're all in it together: coaches, kids and community. We try to get the best out of the kids, give the kids the best shot we have at being the best we can be.

How does a small school continue to reload every season?

My first year there, the first thing I did as a head coach was I started the junior high program. I think that's where everything starts. We even have the younger kids called the rocket kids, and those coaches come in and talk about (football) terms so when kids move from one level to another there's no re-teaching. Everyone has an ego, coaches have egos, and they like to do some things differently. But we don't have that. They do what we do. We give them a lot of flexibility, but we have certain drills we want to run. By the time we get them, these kids are in tune with what we are doing. The summer program also is something I started my first year as head coach too. ... It means that during the season we can concentrate more on teaching than conditioning.

You went from 3-6 in 2006 to 12-0 in 2007. Explain how you bounced back.

The losing season we had, we didn't have a lot of kids, and our two best kids were hurt early in the season and couldn't play. We never did bounce back. Even in that season, we were ahead at halftime in all but one game. We just didn't have enough to come back and pull the game out, and we had some very tough games. It wasn't a good season, but I thought those kids played awfully hard for what we had. We got a lot of experience, and it paid off the following year.

Our JVs practice with the varsity. When I work with inside linebackers, I work with (grades) 9-12. Kids learn quicker from kids than from coaches, as far as I'm concerned. ... Football's really changed. It's become a lot more complex. I think we have to delegate more and more every year so we can stay with the changes. It's too much for one person. I remember my first three, four or five years it was just three of us at the varsity level. The other two, neither one taught at the school. We were pretty successful right off the bat, and we started getting more and more interest from people. Now 9-12 we have seven coaches, and we have three at the junior high, and all the coaches but two have played for me. They know what I expect, what I'm looking for, what I want. ... And they want to win. I'd be lost without those guys.

Are there certain seasons that have meant more than others?

The first year I took the job, in 1989, we went undefeated and won a state title. A lot of those kids are very good friends of mine yet, and they're pretty special to me. They were a big boost to my program. In the '95 year, my son was a sophomore on that state title team. I remember a lot about that team.

They all have something they did very well. They either threw the ball well or played great defense or had a big line. When I hear a year now, I think about those teams.

You grew up in a small town (Colon) and have taught and coached in a small town. Was that important for you to do?

I've never taught anywhere else. I never felt I really had a reason to leave. I've gone through at least six superintendents since I've been there. The fourth or fifth said to me, "The only thing that bothers me about Mendon is these people think an awful lot of winning. There are other things." He asked me, "How do you feel about it?" I said, if they didn't feel that way, I wouldn't be here.

Who was your biggest coaching influence?

I would say Morley (Fraser, Jr., under whom Schwartz was an assistant for three seasons). Years before I got there, Mendon was pretty good in the early 70s, and then in the mid 70s football wasn't very good. I was the JV coach the first year, and the second year after two games they brought me up to varsity. The best thing I did was I told them I would not take the head job, but I'll assist. I knew (Fraser) was the kind of person and personality we needed there. It wasn't necessarily all of his football knowledge, but his energy and excitement that he brought to the game.

You said during the Finals postgame press conference that you'd battled cancer during the summer. How did you come back, and did you ever think that might be time to step down?

Everything's fine. I had coaches that took over. At the same time that that happened, I was retiring. If you retire in Michigan, you can't be at the school for one month. So I couldn't be at summer weights all the way through June. So my coaches did all the summer weights. But I had no intention of stepping down. If something (bad) came down ... but once they said they got it, everything went as normal.

After a championship season, how do you ramp things back up for the next fall and a new group of players?

When we go to the playoffs, we take all the JVs unless there are couple who don't want to go. They experience that and get an extra five weeks of practice if we win a state title. And they're excited about it. They want to do that. They’ve' tasted it, and they want a part of that the next year. We remind them it's not what you did, it's what can you do for me now. ... This is your year.

We talk about winning state championships from day one. A lot of people say we shouldn't do that, but why not? Isn't that the ultimate goal? I can't imagine telling a team we think we could be 7-2 this year. We expect to be 9-0 every year. Of course, that's not going to happen. But at same time, I think the losses make you better the following week. We've won state titles where we haven't won the league title. ... You get better.

PHOTO: Mendon coach John Schwartz talks things over with his players during the Hornets' 21-14 win over Decatur in the 2002 Division 7 Final at the Pontiac Silverdome.

Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 26, 2023

Mendon’s run to the Division 2 Final last fall included some of the strongest rushing performances over the history of 8-player football.

The Hornets ran for 4,317 yards, second-most all-time, on the second-most attempts (520) and with a record-setting 682 yards Oct. 14 against Marcellus. Mendon also set the record for total offense with 692 total in that game, and made the single-season touchdowns list with 76 including 66 rushing (also second on that list).

Junior Jack McCaw made the single-season scoring list with 212 points, most coming on 29 touchdowns, and Evan Lukeman made the single-game rushing list with 401 yards against Marcellus. Mendon’s defense also earned praise, twice making the fewest-first-downs-allowed list with a low of three.

See below for more recent additions to the 8-player portion of the football record book:

8-Player Football

Athens’ Landon Bennett earned a pair of record book entries after reaching the end zone seven times during his team’s 72-0 win over Burr Oak on Sept. 8. His seven scores are tied for third-most in 8-player history and included three rushing, three on punt returns and one on an interception return. The three punt return touchdowns are a record. Bennett is a junior.

On the night Powers North Central broke its 8-player record for consecutive wins, claiming its 28th straight, senior Luke Gorzinski tied Jets great Jason Whitens for the record for interception touchdowns in a game with two, scoring on returns during the second and fourth quarters. Gorzinski has signed with Michigan Tech, and North Central’s winning streak is 37 games and counting.

A pair of Atlanta offensive playmakers and a top defensive lineman earned a total of seven entries in the record book for achievements last fall. Senior quarterback Tyler Currie threw for 30 touchdowns over eight games, and also made the records for six touchdowns and 419 passing yards against Whittemore-Prescott on Sept. 23; the passing yards are second-most for one 8-player game. Sophomore Landon Galea was added for 263 yards and five of those touchdowns against the Cardinals, and also for 1,418 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns over nine games. Junior teammate Tucker Kendrick made the tackles for loss list with five against Hillman on Oct. 6.

Adrian Lenawee Christian senior Brady McKelvey became the first to make the career extra points list in 8-player football this past fall. He bettered his previous single-season record making 64 of 66 extra-point attempts over 11 games and finishing his two-year varsity career with 123 extra points in 127 tries.

Sam McKissack reached the record book showcasing multiple skills for Crystal Falls Forest Park during the 2021 season – twice for rushing attempts in a game including with a record 59 against Ontonagon that Sept. 10, and then with a record 70-yard punt Oct. 30, 2021, against Lake Linden-Hubbell. Teammate Devon Basirico also made the record book with six fumble recoveries over 11 games that season. As a team, Forest Park was added twice for single-game rushing attempts – including 73 total in that Ontonagon game – and for 424 rushes over 11 games for the season. McKissack and Basirico are seniors this spring.

Nikolaus Lewis tied for eighth-most rushing touchdowns in an 8-player game when he reached the end zone six times for Carsonville-Port Sanilac in its win over Caseville on Oct. 7. He’s a senior this spring.

Bridgman has won 24 straight games over the last three seasons, and an exceptional offense – and exceptional offensive star – have played major roles. The Bees were added for 658 total yards in a win over Lawrence last season, that total ranking third all-time, and also 613 yards in a win over Eau Claire. Those included totals of 575 and 547 rushing yards, respectively, and Bridgman was added for 3,598 rushing yards (sixth on the list), 59 rushing touchdowns (fourth) and 76 total touchdowns (seventh). Senior Reid Haskins capped his four-year, 32-game varsity career with 13 record book entries, including for 254 points last season over nine games (tied for fifth all-time) and a record 620 career points, 41 touchdowns last season (fifth) and a record 95 for his career, 2,344 rushing yards last season (third) and a record 5,206 for his career, and 41 rushing touchdowns last season (third) and a record 94 for his career. Senior teammate Tanner Peters made the records three times including for 50 extra points last season (fourth) and 99 over 26 games and three seasons (second on the career list).

Mio's Austin Fox rewrote the 8-player passing record book this past fall, with his 621 yards in a game against Whittemore-Prescott setting a single-game record as he totaled four of the five-highest passing yardage totals. He also set a record with 3,516 over nine games for the season, another record with 289 passing attempts over those nine games and a third record for nine touchdown passes in that game against the Cardinals. His 41 touchdown passes total rank fourth. Teammates Gage Long and Nathan Hurst also earned several record book entries on the receiving end of those passes. Long’s 297 receiving yards against Whittemore-Prescott were tied for third most, and Hurst’s 266 against Alcona rank eighth. Long set a single-season record with 1,739 receiving yards, with Hurst sixth all-time at 1,321, and Long’s 14 receptions against the Cardinals and 70 for the season also rank second on those respective lists. Hurst set a record for longest 8-player kickoff return with a 99-yarder against St. Helen Charlton Heston. All three are seniors.

Peck was one of the first MHSAA 8-player champions, claiming the title in 2013, and Cody Abrego one of the state’s first 8-player stars. The Pirates were added to the MHSAA record book 52 times, and Abrego 14 times individually. Among the most notable entries for the 2015 graduate were for 462 points scored over his two-season career (ranking sixth all-time), 74 career touchdowns (sixth), 2,202 rushing yards in 2013 (fifth) and 35 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (sixth). Current senior Caleb Lentner was one of the stars statewide this past season, and he was added eight times including for 50 points scored in a game (ranking second), 272 points for a season last fall (fifth), eight touchdowns in a game (tied for second), 42 touchdowns in a season (fifth), an 8-player record of 2,694 rushing yards from last season, and 38 rushing touchdowns also last fall (fourth). Others to make the individual lists were Nathan Robar, Caleb Dudley, Steven VanConant, Kyle Abrego and Nathan Neihaus, Dudley for a record 20 career interceptions over two seasons and VanConant for a record 12 tackles for loss in a 2022 game and 36 tackles for loss for the season last fall. The Pirates also are all over the 8-player team record book, including for a record 97 touchdowns in 2013, a record 5,895 yards of total offense that season, 528 carries, 4,346 rushing yards and 73 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (all ranking second); and 24 interceptions in 2014, which ranks second on that list.

Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand was one of the most dynamic players in 8-player football in the fall in leading Martin to the Division 1 title. He had one of his most exciting nights in a playoff opener against Tekonsha, making the single-game touchdown pass list with six in a 68-6 victory.

PHOTO Mendon’s Jack McCaw (21) eludes a tackle during the 8-Player Division 2 Final in November at Northern Michigan University. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)