ST. JOHNS – The 50 or so students chanting “Schmitt! Schmitt! Schmitt!” during the earliest minutes of Monday morning know him mostly as a high school math teacher.
Which makes sense – the oldest probably had just turned 3 when Andy Schmitt was locking down his local legend status as St. Johns’ history-making quarterback.
What they probably don’t remember, they’ve surely heard about – how he led unheralded St. Johns to the 2004 Division 3 championship game, its only appearance in an MHSAA Football Final, on the way to starring at Eastern Michigan University and earning a tryout from the Detroit Lions.
That fame he earned more than a decade ago still stands tall, just as the Redwings' first-year varsity head coach did by a few inches over the rest of his coaching staff and possibly all of his players as the team kicked off the 2019 season with a midnight practice on its home field.
While Schmitt’s experiences and successes surely could have led him down a variety of football coaching roads, he always was circling to come back home – with the hope of giving today's players opportunities to make memories like those that continue to resonate within him.
“It never mattered on opportunities. It was always a matter of trying to come back home,” said Schmitt late Sunday night, as St. Johns’ game clock behind him ticked down the seconds until football teams statewide were allowed to practice for the first time this fall. “My wife’s from here. I’m from here. I grew up with a lot of pride in this community. I saw myself, once I decided to get into education and coaching, I saw myself coming back to St. Johns.
"We had such a good experience playing here, made a couple of nice runs, and I just want to help this program do the same thing."
He began a busy journey as a mostly-unheralded high school junior in 2003. Unheralded, that is, until he led St. Johns to its first District football title that fall.
Schmitt then emerged the next season as the best from a historically-deep group of standout mid-Michigan quarterbacks, leading St. Johns to the Pontiac Silverdome. Although the Redwings lost that championship game to Lowell 38-17, Schmitt made a pair of long scrambling passes that helped St. Johns stay tied with the Red Arrows until the final minutes of the third quarter. And regardless of the defeat, the playoff run spoke volumes – Schmitt eventually was named Lansing State Journal All-Decade quarterback for the mid-Michigan area in 2010, prestige that lives on even for players who have seen him play only on YouTube.
“It’s all over the school. He’s got a banner in there, a picture in the weight room,” Redwings senior lineman Sam Hallead said. “It’s always there to motivate us.”
Schmitt went on to Eastern Michigan University, where after redshirting his first year he played 34 games with 30 starts before a knee injury ended his college career after the team’s third game of the 2009 season. All told, he threw for 5,867 yards and 33 touchdowns at EMU and holds four school passing records while ranking near the top in a number of other categories. He still shares the NCAA Division I record for single-game completions with 58 against Central Michigan in their 2008 meeting.
Schmitt came back from his injury to try out for the Lions in 2010, and then he turned toward his next career. He student taught at Williamston, then as a long-term substitute at Bay City John Glenn before taking his first fulltime teaching job at New Buffalo. Then it was on to Fowlerville and Ovid-Elsie Middle School before arriving back at St. Johns in 2015. Schmitt coached at all of the schools where he taught, and was a freshman coach the last three seasons under his former coach Dave Mariage, who retired from the head varsity job after last season. A week after Mariage resigned, Schmitt was promoted, and he’ll be surrounded this fall by all of the same staff – and with Mariage as his freshman coach.
It's where Schmitt always was meant to be, with qualities he began showing 20 years ago shining through.
“The same love of the game. The same enthusiasm. He loves the game, he knows the game, and he’s excited every day he comes out here,” Mariage said. “I didn’t know that’s what he was going to do (become a teacher and coach), but he’s a natural leader. He checks all the boxes. He’s going to do great.”
Schmitt takes over a program that remains one of the most consistently successful in the Lansing area.
Mariage stepped away with a 124-72 record over his 19 seasons, and the Redwings haven’t finished below .500 for a season since 2005. They’ve won two more District titles since Schmitt graduated and are a regular league title contender.
St. Johns will begin its seventh season since building a football stadium after Schmitt starred on a field that certainly could be referred to as yesteryear. And Hallead said the varsity has 35 players out, with his class plenty familiar with the new coach after Schmitt coached them as freshmen.
Schmitt laughed when asked if his players know of his legendary status in town – “They don’t need to know” – but he admits there’s substantial buzz heading into this season. He’ll never forget how the community came out to support the team when he played, and that support was perhaps the heaviest driving force that brought he and his wife Teisha (Thelen), also a 2005 grad and three-sport standout, home again and home to stay.
“The amount of pride that I experienced going through the runs that we had junior and senior year, and again, watching this town come together and how supportive the town was, made football mean so much to me,” Schmitt said. “How a group of people can bring a lot of people together, seeing the support, seeing the pride made me want to come right back to St. Johns.
“This is home. There’s not going to be anywhere else. This is where we’re going to raise our kids. There’s no going anywhere from here.”
Geoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA as its Media & Content Coordinator in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He has served as Editor of Second Half since its creation in Jan. 2012. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella, Clare and Montcalm counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) St. Johns first-year head varsity coach Andy Schmitt works with his defensive backs during Monday morning’s “midnight madness” practice. (Middle) Schmitt formerly starred at quarterback for the Redwings, leading the program to its first District and Regional titles.
DETROIT – Isaiah Marshall took a second Sunday night to think about the interception he’d just thrown that led to Belleville taking a late lead in the Division 1 Football Final.
But just a second.
When Marshall and his Southfield Arts & Technology teammates took the field down four points with 4 minutes, 47 seconds remaining at Ford Field, the interception wasn’t on his mind. Neither was the raucous Belleville crowd that had awoken on the home side of the stadium.
He wasn’t thinking about stopping a three-peat or snapping a 38-game Belleville win streak. He wasn’t thinking about the talk he’d heard during the week leading up to the game, that his team was on its way to getting blown out like so many of those previous 38 opponents.
All Marshall was focused on was doing his job.
“As soon as I threw the pick, I knew what I had to do differently,” Marshall said. “I just wasn’t thinking about that last play. As soon as I threw the pick, I just thought about it on the bench, then as soon as I came out, it wasn’t on my mind at all. I just knew I had to go down the field and score.”
Like he had all night, Marshall came through when the Warriors needed him most, leading his team on a 69-yard scoring drive, finishing the final 11 with his legs for the go-ahead score in Southfield A&T’s 36-32 victory against Belleville.
His defense finished the rest, as Dorian Freeman intercepted a pass during the final seconds, sealing the first Finals title for Southfield.
“It’s special,” A&T coach Aaron Marshall said. “It’s special for the community. It’s a long time coming. All week I’ve been getting calls from guys I’ve never met just congratulating the boys on making it. We had never even made it to the championship game, let alone won one. It’s real big for the community. I’m really proud.”
To do it, the Warriors needed to overcome the team that has dominated Division 1 for the past three seasons in Belleville (13-1). The Tigers had won the past two Division 1 Finals, and hadn’t dropped a game since Sept. 10, 2021.
They entered Sunday having outscored opponents this fall by an average of 49-7. They also featured the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2025 in quarterback Bryce Underwood.
But Sunday, none of that mattered to Marshall and the Warriors (13-1). Well, except maybe the last part.
“Just a little bit,” Marshall said when asked if he was out to prove he was the state’s top quarterback. “I do think I’m the best player in the state. Me proving that tonight, and showing what I can do on the big stage shows that, I think.”
He finished the night completing 20 of 31 passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns, as well as two interceptions. He also rushed for 134 yards and the go-ahead score, as well as the two-point conversion that put his team up four.
“He came out there and played like I thought he was going to play,” said Belleville star linebacker and running back Jeremiah Beasley, who has committed to Michigan. “He’s a real tough player. Since we were little, he’s always been tough. He came out there and played with all his heart, and they came out on top.”
Underwood certainly had his moments, finishing 11 for 24 for 164 yards and a touchdown to go along with one interception. He also had five rushes for 39 yards.
And A&T was certainly cognizant of what Underwood could do, especially when he got the ball back with 47 seconds to play and a chance to take the lead. But by playing coverage, they didn’t allow the Tigers to push the ball down the field, and eventually pressure from senior defensive tackle Reggie Gardner forced the throw that Freeman intercepted to clinch the game.
“My coaches just told me to spy the quarterback, and whatever he did, I would go,” Freeman said. “Then it was just right in my zone.”
A&T led for most of the game, getting a pair of rushing touchdowns from Mathias Davis during the first half, the second score giving them a 12-7 lead.
After a 31-yard field goal from Belleville’s Brayden Lane made the score 12-10, Marshall engineered an 80-yard drive over the final three minutes of the second quarter to give his team a 10-point lead at the half. He accounted for 79 of the 80 yards with either his legs or his arm, finishing it off with a 13-yard TD pass to Tashi Braceful with 13 seconds remaining in the half. Braceful finished the night with 10 catches for 152 yards.
The Warriors nearly added to that halftime lead, as well, recovering a squib kick at the Belleville 43. Marshall hit Tyjuan Esper for a 38-yard gain on the next play, but he was tackled as the first-half clock expired.
Early in the third quarter, Marshall and the Warriors did stretch their lead when he threw a 19-yard TD pass to Xavi Bowman on a 4th-and-14. DaMario Quarles’ conversion run put them up 28-10 with 3:39 to play in the third quarter.
Of course, Belleville didn’t go away.
The Tigers responded immediately with a 45-yard TD pass from Underwood to Jalen Johnson. And after stopping Marshall on a 4th-and-2 run near midfield, they needed just three plays and 30 seconds to pull within three points of the lead as Beasley scored on a 15-yard run.
On the next A&T possession, Marquis Peoples put Belleville right back in business with an interception that he returned to the 35-yard line. Beasley again cashed in three plays later, with a 22-yard TD run that gave Belleville a 33-27 lead with 4:47 remaining.
Beasley finished the night with 106 yards and the two touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s a senior ball player; he did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Belleville coach Calvin Norman said of Beasley. “He came through in the clutch. When he ran the ball, he did his thing. I have nothing but love for the young man.”
Belleville cornerback Adrian Walker made one of the more remarkable plays of the weekend late in the first quarter, intercepting a Marshall pass deep in A&T territory.
Walker got both hands on the pass, deflecting it up and toward himself as he was spinning up the field. The ball went over his head and Walker reached behind his back to make the catch at the A&T 26.
Four plays later, Belleville was on the board with a 16-yard Colbey Reed touchdown run, and the Tigers led 7-6.
PHOTOS (Top) Southfield A&T quarterback Isaiah Marshall stretches for the game-winning touchdown during Sunday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Warriors ended the night by raising their first championship trophy. (Below) Belleville’s Adrian Walker (2) makes a stunning behind-the-back interception. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)