By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
DETROIT – An arduous playoff road over the last five weeks pushed Reading up against some of the most established football programs in Michigan high school history.
Pre-District opponent Mendon is tied for 10th with 12 MHSAA Finals football titles. Semifinal foe Fowler has won seven championships. Those two, Cassopolis and Adrian Lenawee Christian all were state-ranked during the regular season. Friday’s championship game opponent Beal City was not, but is tied for the most playoff appearances in MHSAA history with 35 over the 45-year history of the tournament.
Reading made its 25th playoff appearance this fall, an impressive feat on its own. But by winning a second straight Division 8 championship – after last year’s first in school history – the Rangers launched their program into that group of the most revered.
They concluded this chapter with a 33-6 win over the Aggies on Friday at Ford Field, extending an incredible run while allowing a star-studded senior class to leave its personal imprint on what Reading has accomplished.
“I really think we left a mark in the playoff book,” Rangers senior Hunter Midtgard said. “Just because we came through last year, we had a really good team, and then we came through this year and we wanted to prove a point that this was our team and we wanted to leave a legacy. We just wanted to finish the job.”
Reading finished this fall 13-1, winning 13 straight after a 14-0 opening loss to Pewamo-Westphalia, which will play Saturday for a third Division 7 title in four years. The Rangers are 27-1 over the last two seasons.
Not that the senior class needed motivation after making a major contribution to last season’s title run. But coach Rick Bailey emphasized that those seniors shouldn’t feel like reigning champions, and instead pursue making their own impact – and the P-W loss threw kindling on that message.
“We worked hard over the summer, but that first loss … kinda lit a fire in us and told us what it took to make it back here, so we really wanted it,” Reading senior lineman Nick Affholter said.
“Also, I thought it was great, because it was our team this year,” said senior linebacker/tight end – and Nick’s twin – Ben Affholter. “We got to be seniors and we got to be leaders, and that drove us to win it as our team.”
Friday’s matchup with the Aggies (12-2) was set up to be strength on strength – especially considering the two starting quarterbacks together combined for only about 1,500 yards passing this fall.
The game stayed within a score until midway through the third quarter, when Reading began to show it was stronger in the long run.
The Rangers scored the final 19 points, all on runs, and outgained Beal City on the ground 260-42. Reading also had 10.5 tackles for loss, with Ben Affholter leading with 4.5.
Beal City senior quarterback Jack Schafer was able to counter with 115 yards and a touchdown passing, completing five of nine attempts. But Rangers junior Porter Mauk also made the most of his six attempts, connecting on scoring passes for his team’s first two touchdowns.
“I think their up front gave us fits,” Beal City coach Brad Gross said. “Number 44 in the middle (Ben Affholter) obviously was stunting, and we didn’t do a very good job of picking him up. But I’m sure that kid is an all-state football player. … They’re big, bigger than we are, and also a lot faster than you think they are.”
Reading finished the season having given up 103 points, or 7.4 per game. Lenawee Christian (21) was the only team to score more than 18. Ben Affholter finished with 10 tackles total Friday, and brother Nick had eight. The Rangers recovered two fumbles and snagged an interception.
Senior Elijah Strine ran for 73 yards and a touchdown and Midtgard added 68 yards and a score on the ground and a 40-yard touchdown reception. Senior Jayson Scoville caught an 18-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring with 3:21 left in the first quarter. Sophomore Matthew Stewart added a 12-yard touchdown run with 13 seconds to play.
Schafer connected with junior T.J. Maxon on a 56-yard touchdown pass two minutes into the second quarter for Beal City’s lone points. Senior linebacker Seth Schafer had 14 tackles and junior linebacker Ethan Locke had 10.
The Aggies made their eighth appearance in an MHSAA Final, and first since 2013. They had finished below .500 the last two seasons, including 2-7 a year ago, before mounting arguably the strongest comeback in the state this fall.
“I think they fit right in there with the best (in school history),” said Gross, who quarterbacked the 1994 team to the Class D title. “I can’t ask for anything more from these guys, starting from last year at the end of the year. It didn’t start in June; it started last year, in November. These kids made a commitment to be there and get things done, and that’s what they did.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Reading’s Roger Hill rushes into Beal City’s defense Saturday at Ford Field. (Middle) The Rangers’ Elijah Strine (30) stretches into the end zone just ahead of Beal City’s Logan Chilman.
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.)