1st & Goal: 2021 Week 1 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

August 26, 2021

Welcome to what might be the most anticipated opening weekend in Michigan high school football history.

No one is saying life is back to pre-pandemic normal, of course. But after last football season saw multiple delays, an abbreviated regular season and altered playoff format, it’s hard not to be excited about most things beginning “as they always have” this weekend across our state.

And there are plenty of opportunities to dig in and enjoy.

Check out your local game, or one of those highlighted below – including a number of games from three showcase events, the Battle at the Big House at University of Michigan, the Xenith Prep Kick Off Classic at Wayne State and the Vehicle City Gridiron Classic at Kettering’s Atwood Stadium. There are also plenty of opportunities to tune in from home – more than 150 games will be streamed live on the NFHS Network or by partner Bally Sports Detroit, including two televised live on BSD’s primary cable channel. (Click for details.)

As in seasons past, our weekly football previews will point out intriguing games from every region of the state – opportunities to see a great story unfold no matter where fans live or are visiting that weekend. Records below are from the 2020 season. (Games from the aforementioned showcases are listed in the region of one of the competitors.) 

Bay & Thumb

Davison (10-1) vs. Clarkston (7-1), Friday at U-M

A number of teams from the I-75 corridor and particularly the Flint suburbs will be playing showcase games this weekend, and this might be the biggest as well as a preview of a more significant rematch to come. Clarkston’s lone loss last season came by seven to Grand Blanc in a District Semifinal – a week before the Wolves would have faced Davison, which suffered its only defeat at Ford Field against West Bloomfield in the Division 1 championship game. The Cardinals also were Division 1 champs in 2019, with Clarkston most recently making the Finals as Division 1 runner-up in 2018.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Lapeer (3-4) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (10-0) at U-M, Frankenmuth (11-1) vs. Goodrich (6-2) at Atwood Stadium. FRIDAY East Lansing (8-1) vs. Grand Blanc (7-2) at Atwood Stadium, Midland Dow (5-3) vs. Fenton (7-1) at U-M.

Greater Detroit

Detroit Catholic Central (9-1) vs. Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (3-4), Thursday at WSU

This might be the premier matchup of the Wayne State games, and also one where a 2020 record should be ignored when making that argument. Chippewa Valley may have lost four games last season, but those defeats came by a combined 21 points and none by more than nine. DCC, meanwhile, suffered its only loss to Davison, in a Division 1 Regional Final. The Shamrocks were especially tough defensively last fall, giving up 10 points per game, while winning a Detroit Catholic League Central that sent Warren De La Salle Collegiate to the Division 2 championship game.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Canton (8-1) vs. Dearborn Fordson (5-3) at Wayne State, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (7-2) at Macomb Dakota (6-2). FRIDAY Oak Park (5-6) at Orchard Lake St. Mary's (2-4). SATURDAY Southfield Arts & Technology (3-4) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (8-1) at Wayne State.


DeWitt (12-0) vs. Traverse City Central (9-2), Thursday at U-M

The Panthers are coming off their first Finals championship, claiming the Division 3 title last season, and might be even better on offense this fall with multiple playmakers returning after the team scored at least 37 points in all but one game. Central missed making Ford Field by one win, falling to eventual champion Muskegon Mona Shores in a Division 2 Semifinal. The Trojans scored at least 30 points in all but one game last season and should be a handful in an intriguing Michigan Stadium clash.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Olivet (7-2) at Charlotte (2-5). FRIDAY Freeland (8-2) at Clare (7-1), Fowler (6-3) at Carson City-Crystal (6-2), Lansing Everett (did not play) at Lansing Sexton (did not play).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Reed City (8-0) at Cadillac (7-3), Thursday

Rewind again to when the MHSAA football season concluded at Ford Field, and Cadillac was one of the surprises of championship weekend. The Vikings reached the Finals for the first time, and while being held scoreless by Detroit Country Day in the Division 4 championship game they also put up one of their most impressive defensive performances holding the Yellowjackets to 13 points. Reed City’s story, though, had to feel a little unfinished – after starting out with eight straight wins, the Coyotes’ last playoff game before the COVID-related break in November was canceled, as was their Regional Final when play resumed in January.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Traverse City West (6-2) vs. Midland (8-1) at U-M, Beaverton (6-2) at Lake City (2-4), Houghton Lake (4-3) at Maple City Glen Lake (5-3), Kingsley (8-0) at McBain (6-1).

Southeast & Border

New Lothrop (11-0) at Jackson Lumen Christi (5-5), Thursday

These two have made a combined six trips to Ford Field with five championships over the last five seasons. New Lothrop is coming off its second Division 7 title in three seasons in January, while Lumen Christi was stopped short in the Regional Finals – a week before it would have met New Lothrop with a Finals bid on the line. This is also an intriguing matchup between the state’s longest-serving and third-winningest football coach, Lumen’s Herb Brogan (373-89 over 42 seasons), against a younger leader on the path to join the all-time greats in Clint Galvas (129-15 over 13).

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Ithaca (8-1) at Hudson (4-4). FRIDAY Ottawa Lake Whiteford (6-3) at Blissfield (8-1), Michigan Center (6-2) at Homer (5-3), Saline (8-2) vs. Hudsonville (5-3) at U-M.

Southwest Corridor

Portage Central (3-5) at Stevensville Lakeshore (6-3) , Thursday

After not awarding a league champion last season because of the abbreviated regular-season schedule, the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference gets rolling immediately with two frequent contenders facing off. Central and Lakeshore didn’t play last season, but Central has won two straight in the otherwise-annual series.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Lake Odessa Lakewood (3-4) at Battle Creek Pennfield (5-4), Grand Ledge (5-3) at Coldwater (5-2), Cassopolis (2-5) at Schoolcraft (9-2). FRIDAY Battle Creek Lakeview (5-3) vs. Battle Creek Harper Creek (5-3).

Upper Peninsula

Negaunee (6-4) at Iron Mountain (7-2), Thursday

Once the regular season finally got started last fall, the Upper Peninsula proved quickly captivating as the status of best team north of Mackinac Bridge seemed to change hands weekly. Iron Mountain was the last remaining in the playoffs, reaching the Division 8 Regional Finals and missing the Semifinals with a one-point defeat. Both of these teams stand to be in the conversation again not only across the peninsula and statewide but more locally as the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper (and Silver) reinstates league play after also not awarding a 2020 champ.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gladstone (2-4) at Calumet (4-4), Bark River-Harris (5-3) at Gwinn (4-4), Houghton (2-3) at Ishpeming Westwood (5-2), Sault Ste. Marie (6-3) at St. Ignace (1-6).

West Michigan

Edwardsburg (9-1) at Montague (12-0), Thursday

The anticipation for this matchup should rival any this weekend including for the games being played at the three opening showcases. Montague put together one of the most impressive 2020 runs in any division on the way to claiming the Division 6 title but enters this fall with a new coach and quarterback. Edwardsburg missed returning to Ford Field with a two-point loss to Cadillac in a Division 4 Semifinal and likely would have reached double-digit wins for a sixth-straight season if not for the abbreviated schedule.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Zeeland West (5-1) at East Grand Rapids (6-4), Muskegon Mona Shores (12-0) at Lowell (4-4). FRIDAY Grand Rapids South Christian (8-2) at Grand Rapids Christian (4-4), Hudsonville Unity Christian (7-0) at Hopkins (5-2).


Gaylord St. Mary (7-2) at Pickford (7-2), Friday

These two won’t see each other again when the playoffs roll around – Pickford is in Division 1 this season and St. Mary in Division 2. But if recent history serves, this opener could be a primer for the kind of matchup both could earn a few months from now. Pickford made the Regional Finals last season and has pushed at least that far into the playoffs the last five seasons. Gaylord St. Mary is coming off two straight Regional Finals trips, both in Division 1 as well before moving into Division 2 for this fall.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Mendon (6-2 in 11-player) at Vandercook Lake (4-2). FRIDAY Merrill (6-2) at Marion (8-2), Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (3-5) at Martin (8-2), Onaway (6-1) at Indian River Inland Lakes (8-2).

PHOTO: Football stadium lights, like these last season at Muskegon High School, will brighten the sky again for the 2021 season beginning this weekend. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

April 30, 2024

CONSTANTINE – Bennett VandenBerg has earned many accolades over the last four years as a three-sport athlete at Constantine.

Southwest CorridorBut the awards aren't what the 6-foot-3, 240-pound standout will remember most when reflecting on his memories as an all-state football player, state champion wrestler and record-breaking throwing specialist on the Falcons' track & field squad.

"I'll remember how I represented our school and pushed myself to be the best I could be in each sport that I played," said VandenBerg, who has earned 12 varsity letters.

VandenBerg has evolved into one of the most accomplished athletes in the state this school year as a senior, especially standing out among those from smaller communities.

This past fall he was named first-team Division 5-6 all-state at defensive end in football before winning the Division 3 Individual Finals wrestling title at 285 pounds in early March at Ford Field.

VandenBerg's final goal is to win the discus title at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals on Saturday, June 1, in Kent City to end his Constantine career all-state in all three sports.

He broke the school record in the discus his junior year with a throw of 158 feet, 1 inch; the previous mark of 156-6 had been held by Doug Polasek since 1986. VandenBerg has eclipsed his school record twice this spring, most recently with a personal-best toss of 170-9 in a Southwestern Athletic Conference double dual meet with Schoolcraft and Kalamazoo Christian. He ranks No. 4 statewide in the event regardless of enrollment division. Lawton junior Mason Mayne at 175-4 is the only Division 3 competitor with a better throw than VandenBerg.

"It's really cool to have your name up on the school record board, but I'd like to make that mark more untouchable before I'm done," VandenBerg said. "My goal is to be a state discus champion. I've put in the necessary work for it. It would be nice to end my career that way."

Kyle Rimer, Constantine's veteran boys track & field coach, is most impressed with VandenBerg's leadership and presence in working with the Falcons' younger athletes.

VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. "Bennett loves to compete. Ever since he was a freshman, we've also had him on our 400-meter relay team. That's something he really enjoys doing. He's not just a thrower, but a good overall athlete with lots of drive,” Rimer said. “There's a lot of individuality in track & field, but I think he does a great job of leading the younger kids. He has the drive, accountability and technique to achieve his goal of being a state champion in his throwing events.”

VandenBerg is already a two-time Finals placer in the discus, earning sixth as a junior and seventh his sophomore year. He admits being a little disappointed with his distance at the 2023 state meet.

"In that particular event (discus) you need lots of focus and determination because there are a ton of tiny things you can mess up on that affect your throw. To become better you need to be consistent, show up every day and be willing to put in the work," VandenBerg said. "Right now I'm working on my speed in the circle and quickness in my follow-through."

VandenBerg also has been pleased with his improvement this spring in the shot put. He's increased his distance by over five feet and hopes to break the school record in that event as well. John Kampars (1967) holds Constantine's shot put record at 54-8¼, and VandenBerg's personal best is 48-10 in a double-dual meet this season against Parchment and Centreville.

"Shot put is a difficult event. You need power, but your form has to be top-notch – otherwise it's tough to move that 12-pound ball," VandenBerg said. "I would love to qualify for state in both the discus and shot put and be all-state in each. That would be amazing if I could be a state champion in either of those events."

VandenBerg has put in extra work in the offseason with special instruction from Bill Griffey of Next Throw in Plainwell, along with working with Constantine assistant track & field and head football coach Shawn Griffith.

"Bennett puts a lot of time into working on his throwing. He spends a lot of time in the weight room, and he's a bigger kid who is not afraid to be coached and listens to what other people tell him," Griffith said. "We're excited to see what he can do now that we've had warmer weather recently."

VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft.VandenBerg's motivation this spring follows a tremendous wrestling season that saw him finish 54-0 and capture the 285 championship with a 3-0 win in the title match over Reed City junior Wyatt Spalo.

"I gained 20 pounds of muscle and did everything you need to do to become a better athlete to wrestle the heavyweight division. Winning the title was overwhelming. It was everything I ever wanted, and the first 20 minutes after winning it was relief, especially after losing in the Finals as a junior. I just went into that last match and wrestled smart and confident," VandenBerg said. "My speed and strength gave me an advantage over the bigger heavyweights I faced this year."

Vandenberg, 188-22 with 104 career pins, became the 10th Finals champion in Constantine wrestling history and the first to achieve the feat since Kevin Watkins won a 152-pound crown in 2000.

VandenBerg competed at 189 as a freshman and sophomore. He was a Regional qualifier as a freshman and finished sixth in Division 3 as a sophomore before ending his junior campaign as the Finals runner-up at 215. 

"Bennett is a competitor who hates to lose, and if he does he learns from it. He had a lot of good practice partners on the team his first three years, and he wasn't going to be denied after losing in the Finals as a junior," said Constantine wrestling coach Dale Davidhizar Jr.

VandenBerg played on Constantine's varsity football team for four years. He got a lot of extra playing time as a freshman when Constantine reached the Division 6 Semifinals during in the COVID-shortened season. He led the Falcons in rushing as a sophomore before switching to tight end as a junior. Out of necessity, VandenBerg returned to lead Constantine in rushing and scoring again as a senior.

"Bennett learned a great deal from the older guys on the team his first three varsity seasons. He learned leadership qualities and is a very unselfish kid who is willing to do what's best for his team," Griffith said.

VandenBerg is most proud of Constantine winning a District crown last fall, especially after his senior class went 0-5-1 as eighth graders. VandenBerg posted 164 solo tackles at defensive end during his final high school season and was Constantine's main offensive weapon with 1,354 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing on 186 carries.

"Winning Districts as seniors in football was a special moment. As eighth graders, we weren't exactly the most athletic team, but we put in the work as we got older to become successful," VandenBerg said.

VandenBerg has been invited to play for the West team at the annual Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's East-West All-Star Game this summer.

College coaches have shown interest in VandenBerg in all three sports, especially football and wrestling. VandenBerg, who carries a cumulative GPA of 3.989 and scored 1110 on his SAT, is weighing his options in athletics but knows he wants to study either ecology or forestry in college.

"I love being outdoors and doing what I love to do," VandenBerg said.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Constantine’s Bennett VandenBerg competes in the discus during a home meet his junior season. (Middle) VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. (Below) VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft. (Photos by Brandon Watson/Sturgis Journal.)