South Christian 2022 Finishes Best in Division 4, Best in Sailors' History

By Scott DeCamp
Special for

November 25, 2022

DETROIT – Grand Rapids South Christian’s football team wasn’t perfect Friday night at Ford Field, and it didn’t have to be. Now, the Sailors’ season as a whole – that was flawless.

Even when they faced adversity, they never panicked. They moved on and kept making plays, all the way to a Division 4 championship and 14-0 record.

South Christian shut out Goodrich, 28-0, in the MHSAA Final to become the first group of Sailors in program history to finish a season unbeaten.

“I mean, it’s crazy. We’ve had a lot of great teams at South and just to imagine that we’re the only ones to be undefeated is a great feeling,” said South Christian senior quarterback and defensive back Jake DeHaan, whose squad became the fourth in program history to capture a state title and the first since 2014.

South Christian’s first Finals championship came in 2002, when now-coach Danny Brown was a Sailors player. This is Brown’s first state title as a coach.

South Christian, which made its eighth Finals appearance Friday, also won it all in 2012.

“I think I was more nervous as a coach. I think as a player, at least in my experience, I never really got that nervous,” Brown said. “It was another way to hang out with your friends and play the game you loved. But as a coach, you start thinking about all the what-ifs and things that can happen. You want the kids to win so bad that you kind of take on that pressure.”

Vermaas leaps over defender Gavin Valley (32). It wasn’t easy against Goodrich (12-2), which was making its first Finals appearance, as South Christian scored 14 points in the second quarter and 14 in the fourth.

DeHaan, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound playmaker, finished 14-of-21 passing for 266 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He ran 12 times for a game-high 99 yards and one TD, plus he finished with four tackles and an interception. DeHaan’s signature moment was his 54-yard scoring run to give South Christian a 21-0 lead midway through the third quarter.

Junior Jake Vermaas, who fractured his collarbone in Week 3 and returned for the Sailors’ playoff opener, was the other “Jake” to make big plays. He made seven receptions for 152 yards and returned an interception 32 yards for a TD to put it away with 5:07 remaining in the game.

“It makes us that much better, right, to have all these playmakers. I mean, every guy can make a play and that’s what makes us so good,” Vermaas said. “We put in so much work to be that good and it shows, right? Fourteen-and-0.

“We’re the best – you can’t be better than that,” he added. “We were the best to do it at South Christian.”

Goodrich senior standout running back Jace Simerson finished with 91 yards on 20 carries. Martians senior quarterback Gavin Hart was 9-of-25 passing for 100 yards with two picks.

South Christian’s bevy of playmakers on offense and athletes with length on defense made it tough on opponents all season, and Friday was no different. Those strengths allowed the Sailors to overcome three turnovers.

“This is just one of those teams, and I know there’s a lot of them out there that no matter what the situation is, no matter what the moment is, there’s never a panic. They just continue to rise to the occasion,” Brown said.

A Martians defender bats away a pass intended for the Sailors’ Carson Vis (13).“We felt that Week 6 with the (Grand Rapids) Catholic win, I think that kind of solidified – that was a back-and-forth game – that even when things get tight and there’s adversity, they can step up.”

That, the Sailors did.

In a scoreless game, DeHaan hit senior Nate Brinks on a 3-yard TD pass with 9:48 left in the first half. Four minutes later, he found sophomore Carson Vis on a 23-yard scoring strike.

Veteran Goodrich coach Tom Alward said he felt his team had opportunities to make plays, but the Martians just couldn’t capitalize. He attributed much of that to the Sailors.

“They’ve got athletes galore. They’ve got athletes at every position. I mean, it’s incredible,” Alward said. “You’re trying to match up. We thought we’ve got some athletes as well, but it’s tough to match up everybody. 

“They do a good job. They sit there and they look, ‘Oh, that’s a linebacker.’ You run out of defensive backs against these guys. Plus, that quarterback, he’s a special young kid.”

DeHaan directed South Christian to this championship, helping the Sailors survive tests in the previous three rounds of the playoffs.

South Christian put away Hudsonville Unity Christian late, 35-20, in the District Final. In a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the Regional Final, the Sailors outlasted Whitehall, 28-21. In the icy Semifinal, South Christian held off Edwardsburg, 26-20.

“Our coaches stress (not to panic), which just helps us to keep persevering. And we knew that if we keep going and keep going that eventually our team’s going to come out on top and make plays when we need to make plays,” said DeHaan, who suffered a shoulder stinger late in the game but re-entered a play later.

It was a tough finish for Goodrich, which reeled off 12 straight wins to get to Ford Field after suffering a 27-2 season-opening loss to Frankenmuth, which is competing in the Division 5 Final on Saturday.

Alward said he loves every one of his teams, but this one will always have a special place in his heart.

“This team is exceptional – they’re exceptional,” the 30-year head coach said. “And not just football players, I’m talking about young men.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Grand Rapids South Christian’s Jake Vermaas (2) tries to pull away from the grasp of Goodrich’s Owen Deciechi during Friday’s Division 4 Final. (Middle) Vermaas leaps over defender Gavin Valley (32). (Below) A Martians defender bats away a pass intended for the Sailors’ Carson Vis (13). (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for

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 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.)