By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
FLINT — Most high school football coaches aren't comfortable having their quarterbacks, no matter how athletic they are, perform double duty by playing defense.
The risk of injury or excessive fatigue is simply too great.
Flint Powers Catholic's Bob Buckel is no different than the majority of his peers.
"I'll be honest, I don't feel comfortable having him on the field all the time," Buckel said of senior quarterback Noah Sargent.
And, yet, having Sargent play defensive back when he isn't running the offense is one of the reasons why Powers (11-2) will play Zeeland West (13-0) for the MHSAA Division 4 championship at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Ford Field.
Sargent's team-high third interception of the season played a major role in Powers' 21-14 come-from-behind victory over Detroit Country Day in the Semifinals last Saturday in a snowstorm at West Bloomfield
He had already ignited a comeback from a 14-0 halftime deficit by tossing a 38-yard touchdown pass to Peyton Beauchamp. Sargent's one-handed interception later in the third quarter at the Country Day 20-yard line set up a 20-yard touchdown run by Reese Morgan.
Showing off one more aspect of his skill set, Sargent scored the winning touchdown on a 2-yard run with 26 seconds left in the game, putting Powers in the MHSAA championship game for the third time in school history. The 2005 team won the Division 4 championship, while the 2011 squad won the Division 5 title.
Putting an exclamation point on his performance, Sargent knocked down Country Day's final desperation pass as time expired.
"Noah understands we don't want him to get killed on defense," Buckel said. "We really try to put him on the best receiver and keep him out of harm's way. I heard someone earlier in the year say, 'When you get to the playoffs, you've got to save him.' I said, 'When you get to the playoffs, you have to play every play like it's your last play.' You throw him out there and hope for the best; the best happened last Saturday."
Sargent has 19 tackles, ranking ninth on the team. He is part of a defense that has allowed only 21 points in four playoff games and posted a school-record six shutouts.
"Coach really only plays me as a cover guy," Sargent said. "He doesn't like to throw me down (near the line). He uses me in coverage on third-and-long situations and passing downs."
As a quarterback, Sargent has displayed the kind of dual-threat capability that was integral to Powers' last MHSAA championship four years ago. Garrett Pougnet ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 258 yards and four touchdowns in Powers' 56-26 rout of Lansing Catholic in the 2011 title game.
Sargent is Powers' leading rusher, in addition to its leading passer. He's run 134 times for 1,026 yards and 15 touchdowns, including an 83-yard scramble on third down for a touchdown in the playoff opener at Goodrich. He's 104 for 181 for 1,563 yards, 18 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Five of those touchdown passes came in a 41-0 victory over Goodrich, as he had a hand in all six touchdowns.
"We knew Sargent was the show," Goodrich coach Tom Alward said. "They've got good receivers, but Sargent's the one that makes them go."
Sargent is the son of Mike Sargent, an all-state linebacker at Powers in 1983 and a tight end on Michigan State's 1988 Rose Bowl championship team. Both of Sargent's parents went to Powers, and Noah attends his parents' alma mater with his sister, Nikole, who was the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 shot put champion as a junior last spring.
"He's a good leader," said senior tight end Nick Thompson, Powers' leading receiver with 27 catches for 448 yards and seven touchdowns. "He's humble. He's not selfish. He has the aspects of a good leader. You can see it on the field, obviously, and at practice. We trust him."
Sargent isn't the only Charger with a rich Powers pedigree.
Running back Reese Morgan and receiver Matt Wiskur had brothers on the 2011 championship team. Brooks Morgan was a starting receiver, while Ethan Wiskur was a starting defensive back who had an interception in the 2011 title game.
Watching in the stands as middle school students, the younger Morgan and Wiskur brothers had all the incentive they needed heading into high school.
"That's my main motivation," said Wiskur, who has 23 catches for 383 yards and five touchdowns. "They're the strongest team I've ever seen. They had great leaders. They were 5-4 going into the playoffs. They knew they were going to win states the whole time. They were confident in themselves, and they lived up to that."
A similarity between the 2011 and 2015 teams is their slow starts. Powers was on the brink of playoff elimination after six games, starting out 2-4 in Buckel's first season at the helm. This year's team lost its opener, 27-11, to a Flushing team that went 3-5 the rest of the way. The Chargers were 3-2 before winning their last eight games.
"I remember they didn't have a very good start, but they had a lot of heart and they made a big run in the playoffs and kind of shocked everyone," said Morgan, who has run 146 times for 987 yards and 10 touchdowns while catching 27 passes for 317 yards and two scores.
"The talent on that team was incredible. We have the same chance they did of winning."
When Powers steps foot onto the turf at Ford Field on Friday, the current team will play under the watchful eye of youngsters who hope to one day have the same experience.
"Any high schooler wants to leave a legacy when they leave," Sargent said. "Our whole team is trying to make a mark on Powers history."
Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Powers Catholic quarterback Noah Sargent drops back to pass against Midland Dow this season. (Middle) Sargent unloads a throw during the 35-30 loss, but has led the Chargers to an 11-2 record this fall. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)