By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
ESCANABA – When school ended in early June, Dave Howes took a vacation trip to Florida and began thinking about his upcoming fourth season as junior varsity football coach at Escanaba High School.
Within a month he had become the school's varsity head coach, a position he had never thought about taking on.
"To tell you the truth, I never wanted to be a head football coach," Howes said in the Eskymos’ lockerroom before the start of a recent practice. "It just kind of fell in my lap."
Escanaba had a 10-17 record over the last three seasons under previous coach Jim Hansen, who was dismissed in June, but opened this fall with a 21-7 win over Alpena on Thursday. The Eskymos travel to Petoskey on Friday.
When Howes was contacted about moving up from the jayvees, he said, "I had to make up my mind. Do I want it? It happened real fast. I wasn't expecting it. It just happened."
He was encouraged to apply by several people, including an Escanaba High School administrator, and was given the blessing of his wife, Holly, to pursue the position. He is the second coach in four years to direct the Eskymos, who during the previous 50 years had just two head coaches, Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame inductees Jerry Cvengros and Dan Flynn.
When Howes first joined the Eskymos’ coaching staff in 2005, he said Flynn asked if he ever wanted to become the school's head coach. "I said, I don't know," said Howes. "I didn't envision it. Now I'm more than happy."
Howes said he has received excellent support from family, friends, players, coaches and the community during the short time he has been in charge.
"I want our fans to know that our kids are going to be competitive, and they are going to work hard. They will see there will be an edge about them," he said.
About 100 students came out for the three football levels, with 48 on varsity. Howes didn't have any preseason contact until after July 4, about a month behind the normal period. A big plus in the transition was all the previous assistant coaches stuck with the program, and they have all moved up a level in the process.
"They have all the kids they had in previous years, and we're running the same system," Howes said. "It has been an easy transition. Knowing the kids and knowing the coaches was easy. We had the same kids, the same coaches, the same philosophies. It's made practice easier."
Athletic director Nick Nolde brought the coaches and players together and provided the introductions, which weren't really necessary because of the carry over. "It's been smooth sailing ever since," said Howes of the best-case scenario coming together.
Nolde said given the way "everything went down, it has been a seamless transition. He is familiar with the kids, and he is familiar with the program."
Howes is a native of neighboring Gladstone, graduating in 1993 and playing against Escanaba teams in football, basketball and baseball. "It's weird. As a kid, I hated Escanaba with a passion. Now, here I am," said Howes, whose older brother Dave is an assistant varsity coach with former Escanaba player Don Koish and former Gladstone athlete Jason Micheau.
"It is so funny how things happen," said Howes, who also coached subvarsity football in Gladstone and Beal City following his 1998 graduation from Northern Michigan University and before coming to Escanaba in 2005.
He does not feel any pressure taking over the tradition-laden, highly-respected program spotlighted by the MHSAA Class A championship in 1981 and 1979 runner-up finish.
"To me, it is just a game and we're going to be competitive and try our hardest," Howes said. "We are moving forward. Every day we come in here and see the (old) pictures. It is a great tradition with great pride. But the focus is now. Everything is about the present."
He already has noticed the difference of being in charge of the whole program, from dealing with the news media to handling financial situations and MHSAA rules and regulations. "There is a lot more on my plate. Instead of being in charge of 30 kids, you are the boss of the whole program grades 7-12," he said.
He has also installed his own touch, starting with practice sessions. "The last couple of years we have had super-paced practices. This year we're doing more teaching in our practices," he said. "We are keeping it as simple as possible and putting kids in position to succeed. We're getting more done in a shorter amount of time."
He is not worried about matching X's and O's against such legendary Upper Peninsula coaches as Chris Hofer at Kingsford or Joe Noha from Menominee, nor is he concerned about the imprint made by Cvengros and Flynn, or even his high school coach, the highly-regarded John Mileski.
"I can't follow in their footsteps," he said. "They are irreplaceable. We've just got to move on."
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) Escanaba High School football coach Dave Howes makes a point to members of the Eskymos recently at Escanaba Athletic Field. Howes took over the tradition-laden program in July and is the second head coach in the past four years, after the late Jerry Cvengros and Dan Flynn served as the only head coaches during the previous 50 years. (Middle) Howes encourages his football team during a practice session.
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.)