Next Players Up Keep Whiteford Surging

October 5, 2017

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

OTTAWA LAKE – For many smaller Class C football teams, losing four starters to injuries during the first six weeks of the season would be devastating.

In Ottawa Lake, however, probably only those close to the Whiteford football program have noticed.

Despite the injury bug, the Bobcats are rolling like never before in school history. They are 6-0, averaging 53 points per game and sit alone atop the Tri-County Conference. The key is an unusual amount of depth – and a 28-player roster with 14 seniors and 14 juniors.

“Some of it has to do with a couple of innate classes, with more than the usual amount of kids,” sixth-year Bobcats coach Jason Mensing said. “There’s always an ebb and flow from one grade to the next. But, what we are experiencing is different. In Hunter Lake, not only did we lose a running back, but he was also a cornerback, kick returner and punt returner. And, Alex (Kohler) is a second-year starting guard, but is also our punter and he kicked off.”

Typically, only two or three players start on both sides of the ball for the Bobcats – a rare occurrence for a team has played in the Division 8 playoffs each of the past four seasons (they were in Division 7 in 2012).

“We try and coach every kid the same,” Mensing said. “That’s a very important piece. We really try and develop every player into a starting player. The ultimate goal is to make sure every kid gets on the field.”

Part of the reason the Bobcats have developed such depth is their deep playoff runs the past couple of seasons. The 2015 team advanced to the Division 8 Semifinals, and last year the Bobcats played in the championship game at Ford Field against Muskegon Catholic Central. Since Mensing arrived at Whiteford, he has invited every junior varsity player to practice with the varsity for all of the playoff weeks.

“Those playoff runs have allowed our JV players a ton of extra practice over the past couple of seasons,” Mensing said. “If you think about that, it’s another season and then some. That makes a really big difference, especially the first two weeks or so of the next season. The players come in and already know what to expect, and they know the routine and the pace. They are playing at a higher level at an earlier time.”

Mensing and his staff of 10 varsity coaches work with grades 9-12 in practice on a daily basis.

“That’s a critical piece of coaching – every kid is receiving the same instruction,” he said.

A Tecumseh graduate and former Adrian College football player, Mensing is 53-13 since becoming head coach of the Bobcats, giving him the highest winning percentage of any coach in school history. The program has never been stronger – six straight playoff appearances, a 9-0 regular season last year and two consecutive 9-0 seasons by the JV team. He said he developed his coaching style from playing small college football.

“My background is small college football,” he said. “It always seemed to me to be the best way to operate that I know.”

Whiteford’s offense has rushed for more than 2,200 yards heading into Friday’s game against Sand Creek – an average of about 10 yards a carry. Many of those yards are gained behind 6-foot-5, 280-pound all-state tackle Lucas Tesznar. Jacob Lewis, Jordan Book and Jaret Atherton all are starting for a second year on the offensive line. There are five solid backups in the mix, too, who have received plenty of playing time even though Whiteford has had a running clock at some point in each of its six games.

“At the line of scrimmage we have guys who can come in and play that would start in just about any other year,” Mensing said.

Whiteford lost two 1,000-yard running backs to graduation after last season, but have found several capable replacements in six juniors: Logan Murphy (823 yards on just 61 carries), Zach Bertz (266 yards and 10 touchdowns), Nathan Bauman (258 yards), Ty Eitniear (188 yards) and Lake (148 yards in three games). Bradyn Clark-Gilmore started the season at running back and had a 100-yard game but shifted to tight end and is now the leading receiver on the team (280 yards on 11 receptions).

Thomas Eitniear is the Bobcats’ quarterback. As the starting signal-caller, Eitniear is 29-4, already setting a record for most starts and wins by a Whiteford QB. He holds the school record for career passing touchdowns and is nearing the school record for career passing yards. This season he has 567 yards passing and 409 yards rushing. He’s committed to play baseball at the University of Toledo next year.

“We’ve got a Division I athlete playing quarterback,” Mensing said. “He is a difference-maker. I can’t tell you how many drives or even games have changed over the last three years because of him making a big play.”

Inside linebacker Eli Shelton, safety Abba Risley, cornerback Ty Eitniear (three interceptions) and end Ethan Inman have been standouts on defense. Jack Garrison stepped up when Lake was injured and had several big games. One of the few two-way starters, Matthew Taylor, has been solid all season.

Mensing said players like Thomas Eitniear and Murphy won’t put up gaudy numbers because of the system they are in, but that doesn’t make them any less effective.

“It’s not about any one individual effort,” he said. “It’s about a collective group. That’s what we’ve always been about.”

Whiteford is seeking to win back-to-back league championships for the first time in more than 50 years, the last time when it was a member of the River Raisin Conference. They have games remaining against Sand Creek (3-3), Clinton (4-2) and Britton Deerfield (1-5) on the regular-season schedule. Then the playoffs begin. Lake and Kohler are expected back before the end of the season to help solidify the depth.

“We still have room to show improvement from week to week,” Mensing said. “As long as we continue to improve, and if we can continue to get better over the next three weeks, it will determine where we will end up on the season.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ottawa Lake Whiteford’s Eli Shelton, standing for the national anthem, is one of the defense’s standouts this fall. (Middle) Quarterback Thomas Eitniear takes off around a corner during his third season as a starter. (Below) From left: Jacob Lewis, Lucas Tesznar and coach Jason Mensing confer on the sideline. (Top and middle photos by Carl Hayes, below photo by Doug Donnelly.)

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

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 pamkzoo@aol.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.)