By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
DETROIT – Half of Portland’s division of the Capital Area Activities Conference has made it to the MHSAA Finals over the last three seasons.
So before bringing the Raiders to Ford Field this week, coach John Novara spoke with 2011 Division 5 runner-up coach Jim Ahern of Lansing Catholic, 2010 Division 4 runner-up coach Steve Kersten of Williamston, and a number of others who had occupied the spot he was about to step into Saturday afternoon.
They gave him plenty of advice. But one piece was offered by them all: Stay true to yourself and what you do.
Most of the Raiders’ 90 wins in Novara’s 14 seasons have been more a result of force over fancy: tough running and physical defense, with just a little flare mixed in. So it only seemed right that Portland’s first MHSAA football championship – and team title in any sport – would come with a semi-ugly 12-9 win over Grand Rapids West Catholic that did well in representing the legacy of those who brought the program to the brink.
“We worked hard just like they taught us, and they were in the weight room 24/7, and we looked up to those guys,” Portland senior guard/linebacker Adam Goodman said of his predecessors. “We all had brothers and sisters who went to this school, and we were close with the others guys. They told us to go in the weight room, and we listened to them. They set the foundation for Portland football.”
This is the 10th straight season Portland (13-1) finished with a winning record, but the first time it had won more than one playoff game. By also beating Flint Powers Catholic, the Raiders defeated both the 2011 and 2010 Division 5 champions on the way to this title. West Catholic was that 2010 champ – and beat Portland in the District Final that season.
In fact, three of Portland’s last four playoff losses came to teams that ended up at Ford Field.
“ We've been close every year,” Raiders senior guard/linebacker Dylan Carroll said. “We always face the state champion or runner-up every year, and we finally pulled through.”
The Final played out like much of Portland’s season. The defense, with 10 seniors, often set the tone as the offense – which should return eight starters in 2013 – learned on the fly. West Catholic (10-4) became the seventh opponent to score in single digits. But that was necessary; the Raiders scored their 12 points over the game’s first 15 minutes, and struggled to do much more during the final 23 as West Catholic held them to a season low.
“Our defense has been stepping up all throughout the playoffs, so we knew they were going to give us another chance to get something going on offense,” Falcons junior running back Andy Corey said. “We couldn’t ask for anything more.”
West Catholic’s first score didn't come until Corey’s eight-yard run with 1:02 to play in the third quarter. The other two points came on a safety 2:13 into the fourth. Total, West Catholic had 13 possessions. But three ended with interceptions and two more on turnovers on downs.
Still, the Falcons had one last opportunity to take the game during the final three minutes. After recovering a fumble at their 32-yard line and converting one fourth down, West Catholic had first down and goal to go from Portland’s 10.
But the Raiders stepped up this time, holding the Falcons to one yard total on three straight runs. After a five-yard penalty, West Catholic completed a screen pass that was stopped well short by Portland senior Jeffrey Feldpausch with 50 seconds to play.
“With the playmakers they have, you’re always wondering if you’re going to get them stopped one more time,” Novara said
Portland’s scores came on a one-yard run by junior quarterback Tanner Allison, and then one of the most memorable plays of Finals weekend. Allison took the snap at his 6-yard line, faked two handoffs and spun nearly all the way around as West Catholic tacklers began to pull him to the ground. Right before they succeeded, he launched a seemingly no-look pass into the left middle of the field that somehow got past everyone. Junior Auston Brandt ran under it and turned it into a 94-yard touchdown catch – the third longest in MHSAA Finals history.
“I saw the blitz. I knew the play was getting blown up right away,” Allison said. “I was getting tackled, and I was actually trying to throw the ball away, and he just happened to be there. I saw him, and I was just trying to throw the ball close, and out-throw him a little bit just to get the pass off.”
Allison completed 7 of 16 passes total for 214 yards, with four of those for 178 yards to Brandt. Corey ran 26 times for 146 yards, and sophomore quarterback Travis Russell completed 20 of 39 passes for 209 yards for the Falcons
Carroll had a game-high 13 tackles for Portland. Senior defensive back Joe Harmon had 11 tackles for West Catholic, and junior linebacker Max Boorsma had 10.
“When you take a group of football kids like we did this year – we had six sophomores who started for us, an entire new defensive coaching staff, a new offensive line coach, new running backs coach – and you kinda rally together and you end up playing in a state championship game, the entire coaching staff, the entire program did something right.” West Catholic coach Dan Rohn said. “We’ll be back. We set the goal in January to be back here, and we hope we will.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Portland football players hoist their Division 5 championship trophy after winning their first title Saturday. (Middle) Portland quarterback Tanner Allison (5) holds tight to the ball as Grand Rapids West Catholic tacklers begin to surround him. (Click for more from Terry McNamara Photography.)
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.)