Snowbirds Soar Again As 8-Player Power

October 4, 2019

By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half

GAYLORD — After the first three weeks of the football season, it didn’t look like anyone was going to be able to stop Gaylord St. Mary.

The Snowbirds, after all, had scored 215 points over three convincing victories during their first season since making the move to compete as an 8-player team.

But that high-powered, explosive offense was ground to a halt over the last two weeks. It wasn’t because of a sudden lack of execution by St. Mary. Nor was it due to a stout defense rising to the occasion. Rather, it was back-to-back forfeits by opponents who weren’t able to field teams that sidelined the Snowbirds’ dynamic attack with an unwanted midseason break.

“Our kids want to play, but unfortunately it is what it is,” said Gaylord St. Mary head coach Kevin O’Connell. “It stunk for the kids because I know they really wanted to look forward to Friday nights, especially homecoming.”

St. Mary tried to turn the two-week pause into a positive. They hit the reset button and went back to focusing on fundamentals, with short periods of live contact during quick, but effective practices.

“Our practices have been nothing short of awesome,” said O’Connell.

St. Mary will find out this week against Suttons Bay if the time off disrupted its offensive flow. But the players are confident the break was not a hinderance.

“I don’t think it broke our rhythm. I think it brought us closer together,” said quarterback Brady Hunter. “We were able to bang heads with each other, get some frustration out.”

Hunter is one of a multitude of weapons the Snowbirds have in their veer option attack. The senior quarterback is joined by a stable of talented running backs in seniors Steven Koscielniak and Logan Murrell, and juniors Christopher Koscielniak and Dominic Keister. Senior center Rory Curran anchors the offensive line.

“I like this offense,” said Steven Koscielniak. “This is what our team is about, quick and fast.”

While the Snowbirds’ scoreboard numbers are eye-popping, the team’s individual stats are more modest – partly because those main threats didn’t play in second halves of two games St. Mary was thoroughly dominating. Also, there is enough talent on board to share the wealth and not miss a beat.

“It’s everybody. There’s not just one player who runs it. It’s the whole team,” said Steven Koscielniak.

As the quarterback, however, Hunter is thrust into the important role of leading the group, a task he does well. The three-sport standout, who also excels at basketball and baseball, fittingly, has his pilot’s license.

“He’s one of the best leaders,” Steven Koscielniak said. “No doubt about it. He pushes us to the next level. He pushes us in practice, when we’re lifting.”

“He conducts himself the right way in everything,” O’Connell said of his signal caller. “He conducts practices. He speaks respectfully. He’s a great leader.”

Each of St. Mary’s skill players are returning starters, but it’s been a completely different experience this season for the Snowbirds, who were depleted by injuries and suffered through a 2-7 grind a season ago.

“We took our lumps,” said O’Connell, in his seventh year in charge of the Snowbirds. “A lot of that had to do with we were senior-laden the year prior and then a lot of the seniors last year didn’t get quality reps the year prior. High school football is extremely cyclical.”

Still, St. Mary had a good outlook for 2019. It had speed, athleticism, leadership and experience all on its side, plus a better fit as an 8-player team for a school its size.

“We definitely saw it coming,” said Hunter. “Last year we had a little bit of a rough season. Coming into 8-man we had all of our skill players returning. We knew this offensive power was here.”

The offense has been so impressive that it overshadows what the defense can do, but St. Mary is tough on that side of the ball as well. The Snowbirds’ depth allows them to have only a few players who play on both sides of the ball. Kyle Murphy and Chris Grody are disruptive on the defensive line, while Murrell leads the defensive backfield and Christopher Koscielniak – who his coach lauds for his toughness – is an all-state caliber linebacker.

“He’s not physically imposing, but he is so tough,” said O’Connell. “He’s disciplined. He’s good.

“We’re not big in stature. We just have a lot of tough kids.”

The astonishing thing is the Snowbirds have only started to tap their potential on offense. The team hasn’t even utilized some of its capabilities yet.

“We like to spread ourselves so we’re very diverse. If a team comes and stops our run, we’ve got a great spread offense, a great wing set and a lot of stuff we can throw at them,” said Hunter.

The time to introduce some of that could be coming as the schedule ramps up considerably when St. Mary finally steps back onto the field. The matchup at Suttons Bay is a showdown between unbeaten teams and is followed by contests against a pair of current 4-1 teams in Vestaburg and Mio — the latter a rematch from a 48-32 Week 2 game — and 3-2 Brethren.

“It’s definitely going to be fun,” said Hunter. “Those blowout games aren’t really fun for anyone. Suttons Bay’s a great team. Mio, (Vestaburg and Brethren) — they’re all great teams. It’s going to be a good battle towards the end of the season, and it’s really going to prepare us for playoffs.”

Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at sports@antrimreview.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Gaylord St. Mary’s Logan Murrell (7) follows Steven Koscielniak (1) and another blocker around the edge during a Week 3 win over Central Lake. (Middle) The Snowbirds bring down the Trojans' T.J. Schultz. (Photos by Sports in Motion.)

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.)