And then there were 32. That's all that remains from the original 256 MHSAA playoff football teams heading into Saturday's Semifinals.
This week's Prep Zone games feature three top-ranked contenders and four that remain 12-0 with only two possible games left in this season. Next weekend, it's off to Ford Field and the Finals.
Here's a look at some of what you'll see. (Rankings below are by The Associated Press' panel of media voters.)
DIVISION 1: Rockford (11-1) vs. Detroit Catholic Central (11-1)
Battle Creek Central’s C.W. Post Field
These two entered the postseason ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. Oddly, this will be just the second time these powers will meet, and first since DCC’s 27-23 win over the Rams in the 1998 Class AA Final. The Shamrocks’ only loss this fall came to Orchard Lake St. Mary in Week 8, and DCC avenged it with a 21-7 win seven days later. Not much has changed during the postseason, aside from the Shamrocks’ defense getting a little bit stingier – they’ve given up 20 points total in three playoff games. Rockford has done a little more surviving, advancing with two wins by seven points or fewer. The Rams always run the ball hard, and both Brady Gent and Ryan Hartley have had 100-plus yards in playoff games so far. This game also pits two of the winningest coaches in MHSAA history – DCC’s Tom Mach has 314 victories since 1976 and Rockford’s Ralph Munger has 271 since 1980.
DIVISION 3: Mount Pleasant (12-0) vs. East Grand Rapids (9-3)
Ferris State University’s Top Taggart Field
The top-ranked Oilers have played their part in East Grand Rapids’ 28-game playoff winning streak, getting knocked out by the Pioneers two of the last three seasons. But this is the third straight Mount Pleasant team to post at least 11 wins, and might be the best of this recent run. Sophomore running back Michael Tweh is the name to know on offense, with 1,726 yards and 24 touchdowns rushing this season, while senior Dustin Lee has run for 14 touchdowns and scored four more on passes. As for No. 9 East Grand Rapids, it could well end up the final team standing again. The Pioneers have avenged two of their losses since the start of the playoffs – against Grand Rapids Christian and Holland – and have scored at least 42 points four weeks in a row. David Drummond has run for 1,739 yards and 16 touchdowns, and Travis Palmer has 15 TD passes.
DIVISION 3: Battle Creek Harper Creek (12-0) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary (10-2)
Jackson Withington Stadium
Orchard Lake St. Mary, ranked No. 4, is used to reaching this round, going for its fourth Finals appearance in five seasons and third straight. At least defensively, this might be the best of those Eaglets teams – linebacker James Ross, who has committed to sign with Michigan this winter, is arguably the top defensive player in the state. This will be a much newer experience for No. 3 Harper Creek, which is in its first Semifinal since 1999 but also set a school record for wins. But the Beavers’ game is a great fit on what should be a chilly afternoon on fast turf – Harper Creek runs behind a massive offensive line, led by 6-foot-4, 300-pound Kelby Latta. He blocks for an offense averaging 41 points a game.
DIVISION 8: Mendon (12-0) vs. New Lothrop (12-0)
Howell High School
Top-ranked Mendon’s run through the playoffs has included a win over co-No. 1 Muskegon Catholic and another last week against No. 8 Climax-Scotts. But this might be the toughest test of all. The Hornets have given up fewer than four points a game this fall, and no more than eight since opening night. Oh, and they also score 52 points per game, led by multi-talented junior quarterback Austin Newman. Mendon keeps on trucking in its bid for a fifth MHSAA championship in 11 years. Junior Tyler Harris is up to 1,623 yards and 22 touchdowns running the ball, and two more teammates are over 900. Harris ran for 253 yards and four scores in last week’s Regional final.
(Photo courtesy of 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.)