P-W Triumphs in Clash of Unbeatens

November 30, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – This week was the right time for Carter Thelen to pull out the film from sixth grade, to remember the start of this year’s seniors playing football together a third of their lifetimes ago.

“It was kinda emotional, because this was our last game playing with each other,” Thelen said Saturday after that final game was complete. “Just thinking back to when we kept blowing everybody out in sixth grade and seventh grade and eighth grade. Coach was saying how it was the last game for us seniors … (it was) emotionally sad, but physically it pushed me to go out and be better in practice and stay locked in and push everybody else.”

Every ounce of that focus and every ounce of that push was necessary Saturday as the Pirates faced Jackson Lumen Christi and its 35-game winning streak in the Division 7 Final at Ford Field.

The teams entered with five MHSAA Finals championship over the last three seasons between them, and P-W emerged with the sixth over four, coming out just ahead in a physical matchup 14-0 to claim its third Division 7 title in four years to go with those won in 2016 and 2017. Lumen Christi had won the last three Division 6 championships before moving into Division 7 for this playoffs as one of seven undefeated teams in that 32-team field to start the postseason.

Their matchup indeed was 48 minutes of tug of war. P-W gained 119 yards, and Lumen Christi had 109 as both averaged 2.3 per play. The Pirates (14-0) were held under 35 points for just the second time this season, to go with a 14-0 Week 1 victory over Friday’s Division 8 champion Reading. Lumen Christi hadn’t been shut out since a 2010 playoff loss.

“They’re the three-time defending Division 6 state champs, and they are obviously one of the storied programs in the state of Michigan,” P-W coach Jeremy Miller said. “And when you’re going up against them, you have to execute. So to do it against a quality opponent like that is obviously just a tremendous credit to our kids.”

P-W scored its first touchdown when senior Aaron Bearss pulled in a pass from senior Ethan Thelen with three seconds left in the first half after a Bearss interception gave the Pirates an opportunity at the Titans’ 40-yard line with 27 seconds remaining in the half.

After nearly 22 more minutes of back-and-forth, the Pirates locked up the title on Carter Thelen’s 16-yard scoring run with 2:16 to play, as he burst through the middle of the line and shucked two Lumen Christi defenders at the 1 before gliding into the end zone.

The Titans (12-1) reached P-W territory on three of their 10 possessions, but only inside the 35 once – and that drive ended with a missed field-goal attempt 10 seconds into the second quarter. The three straight Lumen championships saw at least one runner gain at least 200 yards (and in 2017 two did so). Senior Walker Plate entered Saturday averaging almost exactly 200 yards per game rushing this season, but was held to just 49 on 22 carries as the team rushed for only 80 total. Lumen also completed just 6-of-16 passes for 29 yards.

“They were really physical up front, and they played eight men in the box – but we’ve seen that all year long,” Titans coach Herb Brogan said. “We’ve been able to take advantage of what that gives you, and we couldn’t do that today.”

P-W senior lineman John Martin and Lumen senior defensive end Matt Saunders led their respective defenses with 11 tackles apiece. Lumen Christi had 12 tackles for loss, including five by junior Brody Dalton. Senior linebacker Grant Stump added eight more tackles for the Pirates.

Sophomore Tanner Wirth led P-W 63 yards rushing on 23 carries, pushing past 1,600 yards on the year as he stepped in for his senior brother Hunter, who missed the entire season after tearing a knee ligament during the summer. Ethan Thelen completed 5-of-11 passes for 52 yards and a score, two years after tearing a knee ligament as well in his final game sophomore year.

Carter Thelen said this year’s P-W team was defined by how it pushed the pile in short-yardage situations and others when a full team effort was necessary. How the Pirates emerged from those two potentially success-stopping injuries on the way to a second-straight perfect regular season, defeating two unbeaten teams on the way to Ford Field – reigning champion New Lothrop and Iron Mountain – and then winning one of the most power-packed Finals this decade only seemed to back up Thelen’s analogy.  

“It’s every time we get in the moment,” Thelen said. “Everybody goes behind and tries to push the pile.

“We’re stronger than them and we’ve got more heart, and that pile just keeps going our way.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Pewamo-Westphalia’s Grant Stump (22) and Aaron Bearss celebrate during Saturday’s Division 7 Final. (Middle) Bearss locks in on what will be a second-quarter touchdown catch.

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.)