By Ryan Stieg
Special for Second Half
MARQUETTE – A year ago, the Pickford football team was left heartbroken at the Superior Dome as it fell in the 8-player Division 1 championship game.
On Saturday, the Panthers exited the stadium in jubilation as they finished the job this time, downing Portland St. Patrick 48-15 in the Division 2 Final.
Pickford used its large offensive line and talented rushing game to take over in the second quarter. From then on, the Panthers never looked back as they outgained the Shamrocks 285-18 on the ground and 437-143 in total yards on the way to their first title in the sport.
“Our staple for the whole year has been our offensive line, and we knew if we stuck with it and do what we did best, we’d force them to do what they didn’t want to do,” Pickford head coach Josh Rader said. “We controlled the line of scrimmage, I think, on both sides of the ball. And when you’re able to do that, you’re going to win the majority of the games.
“We came up short last year and after that game, you get that empty feeling in your stomach. A lot of them were juniors, and we only had two seniors on the team last year. So they had a goal to get back here to be able to play in this game and win it. So we had some unfinished business, and we found a way to come back here and finish it.”
Pickford quarterback Jimmy Storey agreed with his coach, saying that a championship was on the team’s mind from the start of the season, but took a lot of work.
“It’s all those extra reps,” he said. “Coming out the first day of practice, we set our goals and said we want a state championship this year. We’ve been working toward that in every practice, every game and every play. We just came out wanting it.”
While Pickford (12-1) looked sharp from start to finish on Dome’s turf, the stadium continues to be an unlucky place for the Shamrocks as two years ago they were run over by Crystal Falls Forest Park. This time against the Panthers, the Shamrocks were hit hard early and struggled to get anything going offensively after the first quarter.
“We had some trouble just slowing them down,” St. Patrick head coach Patrick Russman said. “They are great up front, and we knew that. We needed a couple big plays here or there to keep us going along with it. We had a couple chances in there in the passing game. Some we made, and some we didn’t. We just needed a few more points on the board to make it interesting. I credit the kids, and I credit their kids. Credit our kids for fighting all the way through. Two really good football teams on the field today.
“Statistically, if you looked at it, we probably shouldn’t be here. Our kids are such great football players that it’s fun to watch them play week-in and week-out. Just the time and heart they put into it and how they treat other people, those are the great things we get out of this group.”
The first quarter started off pretty even. After forcing a St. Patrick punt, Pickford scored on its opening possession. A couple of first-down runs by Storey got the ball up to the Shamrocks’ 31-yard line before Matt Bush busted up the middle for a touchdown. Storey ran in the 2-point conversion, and the Panthers led 8-0.
St. Patrick (12-1) answered. A long kickoff return from John Schneider brought the ball to the Pickford 7, and a couple of plays later Ned Smith plunged into the end zone on a one-yard run. The Shamrocks got the conversion on a pass from Connor Cross to Tyler Coyne, and the game was tied at 8-8 going into the second quarter.
From that point on, it was almost all Panthers. On the ensuing possession, Pickford quickly marched downfield. On 4th down on the St. Patrick 25, Nick Edington made a nice overhead catch in the end zone. Stephen Lamothe got the conversion for the Panthers to give them a 16-8 lead.
After almost picking off a Shamrocks pass, the Panthers scored again on their next offensive chance, first using their running game to get into St. Patrick territory. Storey capped off the drive with his first rushing touchdown, a two-yard run, and he then hooked up with Micah Bailey for the conversion. Pickford now held a 24-8 advantage with 5:09 left in the second quarter.
The Panthers added one more touchdown before the half, another two-yard run from Storey, and picked up the conversion. St. Patrick had a chance to go into the break with a little momentum as a 39-yard pass from Cross to Schneider took the team to the Pickford 21. But the Shamrocks couldn’t capitalize.
Things got worse for St. Patrick during the second half. Pickford used a combination of running and passing to get the ball to the Shamrocks’ 3, and Storey got his third touchdown run of the game. The Panthers got the conversion on a pass to Luke Batho and led 40-8 with 8:44 left in the third quarter. Pickford locked down the win with 5:20 left when Storey found Batho down the Shamrocks’ sideline for a 55-yard touchdown. The conversion put Pickford up 48-8.
St. Patrick did get on the board one more time as Cross hit Coyne over the middle with a 76-yard touchdown pass with seven seconds remaining.
PHOTOS: (Top) Pickford celebrates its first football championship Saturday at the Superior Dome. (Middle) The Panthers’ Matt Bush (32) breaks into the open while Portland St. Patrick defenders chase. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)