By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
ADRIAN – It’s always fun to be first.
Tonight, when the Division 6 football game between Adrian Madison and Quincy ends, one of the two teams will walk off the field by enjoying its first-ever playoff win.
For the Madison Trojans, it’s been a dream season. As they get set to host their first playoff game in school history, however, the team isn’t just resting on its 5-1 record and best season since 1974.
“We’re certainly not just happy being in the playoffs,” said head coach Taz Wallace. “We’re going to enjoy it, but it’s time to get to work.”
Madison is making just its third football playoff trip ever, and first since 2009. But the school certainly is familiar with athletic success, across a variety of sports.
The track & field teams both have long Tri-County Conference winning streaks. In fact, the current senior class of boys was in grade school the last time Madison wasn’t the TCC track champion. The boys basketball team won three league titles between 2013 and 2016 and contended almost every year since. The volleyball team won its fifth-straight league title this fall. The golf teams have won multiple titles. Madison’s girls basketball team is the perennial league favorite having won eight titles over the last nine seasons.
Football success, however, has eluded the school. The last winning record for the Trojans was 6-4 by that 2009 playoff team. They’ve sent multiple players into the college ranks the last couple of years, but a winning record on the field just hasn’t been in the cards.
This year, something is different. Wallace says the Trojans are playing for each other like never before.
“They’ve always had the ability,” Wallace said. “The difference is they believe in themselves. They hold each other accountable.”
The season started when Madison beat Ottawa Lake Whiteford, a Division 8 powerhouse in recent years. Madison won 42-24, breaking a string of losses against the Bobcats that dated back to 1980. It was a monumental win for the program.
“It was huge for our kids,” Wallace said. “To go out and win that game started all of it. In that moment, our kids realized they could play at that level.”
Although Madison lost in Week 2 to still-undefeated Erie Mason, the Trojans have won four straight games since to finish 5-1 and earn the No. 3 seed in their Division 6 District.
“For us, it doesn’t change,” said Wallace. “It’s about our kids and how we execute. We need to keep getting better.”
Madison’s done it this season with a superior ground game. Three Madison backs have run for at least 200 yards in a game. Rovahn Roberts is averaging an amazing 23.5 yards per carry with 446 yards in just 19 attempts. Dante Cerasuolo was leading Lenawee County in rushing at one point before hurting his foot. Now, Isiah Casarez-Ruiz leads the team in rushing and is second in the county.
Sophomore center Xavier Soss, senior guard Robert Gauna and senior tackle Davion Wheeler have led the Trojans up front.
“Davion is our energy guy,” Wallace said. “He plays with great emotion. They all feed off each other.”
End Marcel Theriot, linebacker Vince Williams and the electric Roberts lead the Trojans on the defensive side of the ball.
Wallace is a Madison graduate, having moved to Adrian from Tuscaloosa, Ala., while in high school. He was a multi-sport athlete at Madison and went to Adrian College, where he grew into an All-American linebacker. After four outstanding seasons with the Bulldogs, he earned a tryout with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted rookie free agent and survived several cuts before ultimately his NFL dream ended.
He is the student success coach at Madison and in his ninth season as varsity football coach. In August, Wallace announced he was stepping down as head coach saying he felt it was just time. When the MHSAA announced football was going to re-start in September, school officials went to Wallace and asked that he stay on for the season.
This season, the hard work has paid off and Wallace has Madison on the brink of its best-ever finish.
“It’s never been about me,” Wallace said. “I love all of these kids. It’s about them. As soon as I was back, it was all-in. There’s no other way to approach it.
“I love our kids like they are my own. Once I came back, I gave these kids everything I had. There’s no other way to do it. I love these kids. They deserve the best.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Adrian Madison coach Taz Wallace, far left, confers with Ryan Fisher (58) and Mario Garcia (27). (Middle) Wallace this fall has led the Trojans to their best football season in more than a decade. (Photos by Mike Dickie.)
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.)