Preview: Favorites to Meet in Final

November 18, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

It’s easy to promote tonight’s MHSAA 8-Player Football Final at Legacy Field in Greenville as the meeting of the two best teams in the state this season.

Powers North Central and Deckerville entered the playoffs both undefeated and with the highest and second-highest playoff-point averages, respectively, in the division. And both have surged through the playoffs despite impressive opponents attempting to get in the way.

The Jets are known for a high-flying offense, while the Eagles are powered by a stifling defense – and yet, both are pretty strong on the other sides of the ball as well. See below for a glance at both teams, and if you can’t make it to Greenville the game also will be broadcast live on FoxSportsDetroit.com, with live audio streaming on MHSAANetwork.com. On-demand video will be available shortly after the game’s conclusion at MHSAA.tv. 

(Statistics below are through Regional Finals unless noted. Rankings are based on playoff-point averages at the end of the regular season.)

DECKERVILLE
Record:
 11-0, No. 2
Coach: Bill Brown, 24th season (190-69)
League finish: First in North Central Thumb League.
Championship history: 8-Player champion 2012.
Best wins: 36-6 over No. 4 Wyoming Tri-unity Christian in the Semifinal, 58-12 over No. 6 New Haven Merritt in the Regional Final, 40-0 over No. 11 Webberville in the Regional Semifinal.  
Players to watch: RB/DB Austin Fritch, 6-0/175 sr. (1,305 yards/23 TDs rushing); FB/LB Wade Saldana, 5-8/170 sr. (596 yards/13 TDs rushing); QB/DB Brandon Pattullo, 6-0/180 sr. (379 yards/9 TDs rushing, 496 yards/8 TDs passing); LB/OG Reese Bays-Kramer, 5-11/180 sr.; DT/SE Austin Spaetzel, 6-0/210 sr.
Outlook: Deckerville’s defense has gotten a lot of attention this week, and rightfully so – the Eagles have given up a mere 50 points this season and only 18 combined the last two weeks against previously-undefeated playoff teams. Bays-Kramer and Spaetzel lead on that side of the ball, playing massive roles in helping the team to five shutouts while never giving up more than 12 points in a game. But we shouldn’t forget the offense, which was especially dominant last week running for more than 400 yards without attempting a pass. Fritch added 263 yards and four touchdowns to his totals above, giving him 1,568 yards and 27 scores rushing this season, and the team as a whole has run for 3,417 yards while needing to throw for only 517. All 11 wins have been by at least 22 points.

POWERS NORTH CENTRAL
Record:
 12-0, No. 1
Coach: Kevin Bellefeuil, 11th season (64-52) 
League finish: First in Western 8 Conference.
Championship history: 8-Player champion 2015.
Best wins: 60-50 (Regional Final) and 60-42 over No. 8 Crystal Falls Forest Park, 68-32 over No. 12 Stephenson, 62-22 over No. 9 Pickford in the Semifinal, 76-18 and 64-0 (Regional Semifinal) over No. 16 Rapid River.
Players to watch: QB/DB Jason Whitens, 6-4/210, sr. (2,170 yards/40 TDs passing, 536 yards/15 TDs rushing, 2 punt return TDs); RB/DB Bobby Kleiman, 5-9/175, sr. (594 yards/9 TDs rushing, 452 yards/10 TDs receiving, 3 interception return TDs, 3 punt return TDs); WR/DT Dylan Gagne, 5-8/175, sr. (439 yards/10 TDs receiving, 290 yards/4 TDs rushing); WR/DB Marcus Krachinski, 6-0/170 sr. (549 yards/10 TDs receiving); RB/LB Tyler Bentley, 5-7/175 sr. (541 yards/9 TDs rushing, 351 yards/3 TDs receiving).
Outlook: North Central remains undefeated in two seasons of 8-player football, bolstered by a Whitens-led offense averaging 67.4 points per game – only a few off last season’s average of 70.4. In fact, a loss would be the first for these seniors in either football or basketball since 2014 – Whitens, Kleiman, Krachinski, junior linebacker Lucas Dombrowski and senior center Ryan Plunger all also saw time in last winter’s Class D hoops Final as the Jets finished a second straight undefeated run in that sport. For the second straight football season, no opponent has come within single digits of North Central; only Forest Park got the deficit down to 10. Whitens added another 226 yards and three scores passing last week, giving him 2,396 and 43 total this fall.

The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.

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.)