Whiteford Returns to Familiar, but Differently

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

August 10, 2020

OTTAWA LAKE – Jason Mensing believes high school football can happen this year safely. 

Monday was the first official practice of the 2020 high school football season across Michigan. Thousands of athletes put helmets on and started the journey, including Mensing’s Ottawa Lake Whiteford Bobcats. 

Like any other year, Mensing said early-season practices are about finding out the personality of his team and what motivates them. 

“Every year is different, without question,” Mensing said. “Every year is a new challenge.” 

The start of practice this year is certainly unlike any other. While welcoming players, Mensing was busy going through MHSAA safety protocols, including asking a series of health questions and taking the temperature of every player and every assistant coach. With Covid-19 and the worldwide pandemic on everyone’s mind, the football season still started. 

“I think the kids just want to be together,” Mensing said. “That’s the biggest thing. A lot of their travel teams that they played on this summer in other sports, those kids might be friends, but those aren’t their classmates. It’s different.” 

While practice started Monday, there are still some questions about the upcoming season. For one, teams won’t be able to put on shoulder pads and equipment other than helmets until Aug. 17. In normal years, shoulder pads and then full pads are added gradually during the first week.

Week 1 games this season are scheduled for the final weekend of August, but the MHSAA has not announced yet if competition is cleared to resume. That announcement will be made by Aug. 20.

As a member of the MHSAA’s Representative Council, Mensing has been part of this summer's discussions about Fall sports moving ahead. He’s also part of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association, serving as its awards chairperson.

He’s a firm believer in football happening this fall.  

“It extends beyond football practice,” Mensing said. “It extends to the school experience, to school sports. We know from the last six months that socially and emotionally kids need this outlet. They need to connect. They need to be with one another and with people for their development.” 

Mensing points to research that suggests two-thirds of youth today are depressed. 

“That’s not acceptable in my world and I think a lot of others,” he said. “We can address that with outlets like arts and athletic programs.” 

Playing high school sports, he said, can help teach student-athletes to be safe, to wash their hands, to wear masks during a pandemic and to social distance – in other words, to take the necessary steps to stop the spread of the virus. 

“It’s been very, very apparent to me that our young people, out of their need to socialize and engage with one another, are going to,” he said. “What’s concerning me when it comes to the virus and the transmission of it, is that it’s our job to mitigate that and reduce it so it doesn’t get spread. When there isn’t structure and protocols in place and there isn’t an education about why those structures are necessary, the spread is only going to get worse. 

“Through sports and our arts programs, we can establish safe routines to educate people on why we need these protocols and why we need to mitigate and slow the spread of the disease.” 

Coaches have a unique opportunity to instill the message into their team members. 

“It’s a challenge every day because it’s not what they are doing outside of this,” he said. “It’s definitely a challenge. It’s not natural for people to stay six feet apart or wear a facial mask.” 

The Tecumseh native played college football at Adrian College, coached for one year at both Adrian College and Siena Heights University and has been a head coach at Addison, Grayling, Owosso, Tecumseh and is starting his ninth year at Whiteford. His Bobcats won the 2017 Division 8 championship after finishing runners-up the season before.

Among changes to this preseason is the elimination of the scrimmage at the end of the second week of practice. Mensing was fine with that move, he said, because it gives the coaching staff a little more teaching time.  

“From an instructional standpoint, I think we can have a little more patience,” he said. “We’re not in such a hurry. Our pace can be a little more reserved. We are three weeks out from playing anyone.” 

The Bobcats will be young this season after finishing 5-5 a year ago and making the playoffs for the eighth straight season. They do return three of their top four rushers from last season in senior Devon Shaw (883 yards) and juniors Cole Giesige (668 yards) and Levi Hillard (132 yards). Other returning starters include sophomore quarterback Shea Ruddy, tight end Luke Masserant and all-state offensive lineman Noah Bauman. 

“We have a long way to go,” Mensing said. 

Returning starters and numbers aside, Mensing is optimistic the season will go forward. 

“As long as it’s driven by the science and it’s based around us making sure we are following protocols, yes,” he said. “Ultimately if teams aren’t having transmission of the virus, we will have a safer society. Can it happen? Sure.” 

PHOTOS: (Top) Ottawa Lake Whiteford football coach Jason Mensing, right, takes the temperature of Cole Giesige prior to the start of Monday’s first practice of the 2020 season. (Middle) Mensing fills in a questionnaire with Devon Shaw. (Photos by Doug Donnelly.)

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.)