1st & Goal: 2022 Week 1 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

August 25, 2022

It’s game time again for 605 high school football teams across Michigan.

MI Student AidThis opening weekend will see all but a handful begin their seasons, with 174 games Thursday, 130 on Friday and five Saturday.

Each week, we’ll again discuss intriguing 11-player games from every region of the state and the 8-player divisions, and special this Week 1 we’ll also take a glance at a matchup from all three of the opening showcase events being played over the next three days.

Nearly 200 games will be broadcast this weekend either on the NFHS Network or Bally Sports Detroit; click here for the schedule. To see a list of all games – and scores as they come in – click here for our Score Center.

Rankings below are by the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association.

Xenith Prep Kickoff Classic – Wayne State University – Tom Adams Field

Sterling Heights Stevenson (10-3) vs. West Bloomfield (10-2), Thursday

The Lakers have high hopes again after winning Division 1 in 2020 and reaching the Regional Finals a year ago. They enter this season ranked No. 2 in Division 1, behind only reigning champion Belleville. But Stevenson will seek to make a statement right away after reaching the Semifinals last season.

More Xenith games THURSDAY Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (8-4) vs. Macomb Dakota (8-4). FRIDAY Allen Park (9-3) vs. Wyandotte (4-5), Belleville (13-1) vs. Novi (5-5). SATURDAY Dexter (5-5) vs. Grosse Pointe South (6-5), Cedar Springs (9-3) vs. River Rouge (7-3).

Battle at the Big House – University of Michigan – Michigan Stadium

Clarkston (8-2) vs. Davison (5-4), Thursday

After reaching the Division 1 Final two seasons ago (and falling to West Bloomfield), the Cardinals missed the playoffs last season but did finish on a 4-1 run and had two defeats by three points – including 29-26 to Clarkston in the opener. The Wolves will be playing their first game under former assistant Justin Pintar, who took over after the retirement of Kurt Richardson, who was 274-98 from 1987-2021.

More Big House games THURSDAY Brighton (4-5) vs. Dearborn Fordson (9-3), DeWitt (12-2) vs. Haslett (8-3). FRIDAY Livonia Churchill (8-3) vs. Plymouth (1-8), Port Huron (6-4) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (14-0), Lapeer (7-3) vs. Ann Arbor Huron (8-2).

Vehicle City Gridiron Classic – Kettering University – Atwood Stadium

Grand Blanc (12-1) vs. Grandville (7-4), Thursday

The Bobcats’ only loss last season came to eventual Division 1 runner-up Rochester Adams in a Semifinal, and they enter ranked No. 8 in the division under first-year coach Kaleb Forr – who previously led Flint Kearsley to its first District title in 2020. Grandville is a consistent Ottawa-Kent Conference Red contender and coming off a third-straight seven-win season.

More Vehicle City games THURSDAY Flint Kearsley (6-4) vs. Flint Carman-Ainsworth (2-7). FRIDAY Flint Southwestern (2-6) vs. Swartz Creek (5-5), Flint Beecher (4-6) vs. Saginaw Nouvel (3-6).

Bay & Thumb

Clare (7-4) at Freeland (11-2), Thursday

Freeland is opening the season ranked No. 6 in Division 4 after making a run to last year’s Semifinals – and losing only 30-27 in that game to eventual champion Chelsea. The Falcons’ campaign last season began with a 24-14 Week 1 win over Clare, which is coming off its 16th-straight winning season. But the Pioneers have something of a new look this fall; longtime assistant Steven Spranger has taken over the program from Kelly Luplow, who retired with a 251-95 record from 1987-2021. 

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Midland Dow (6-4) at Fenton (4-5), Goodrich (7-3) at Frankenmuth (12-1), Essexville Garber (5-5) at Hemlock (6-5), Croswell-Lexington (10-2) at Saginaw Swan Valley (6-5). 

Greater Detroit 

Orchard Lake St. Mary's (6-5) at Rochester Adams (13-1), Thursday

Adams played as long as possible last fall, reaching the Division 1 championship game before suffering its lone loss of the season, to West Bloomfield. The Highlanders are capable of that sort of run again and enter the season ranked No. 3 in Division 1. St. Mary’s is another program replacing a longtime coach, as past star Jermaine Gonzales has taken over for retired George Porritt, who was 278-94 from 1989-2021. The Eaglets enter this fall ranked No. 4 in Division 4. 

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Montrose (7-3) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (9-3), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (7-4) at Detroit Catholic Central (8-3), Walled Lake Western (7-4) at South Lyon (12-1). FRIDAY Canton (7-4) at Livonia Franklin (7-6).


Jackson Lumen Christi (11-2) at New Lothrop (7-4), Thursday

This is the second year in this series of openers between the annual Division 7 championship contenders, with Lumen Christi winning last year’s matchup 27-14. The Titans ended up advancing to the Semifinals, while New Lothrop lost to eventual champion Pewamo-Westphalia in a District Final. There’s every reason to think those high-level opportunities will be possible again, as Lumen enters No. 4 and New Lothrop No. 5 in the Division 7 rankings.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Ovid-Elsie (6-4) at Portland (10-3), Zeeland East (5-5) at Williamston (6-4). FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (10-2) at Fowler (7-4), Redford Union (8-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (14-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula

McBain (7-4) at Kingsley (10-2), Thursday

Kingsley owns a 5-3 edge during this latest series between these longtime rivals, with the Stags winning big last fall to kick off what ended up turning into another playoff season for both programs. That’s an expectation again for both. Kingsley enters ranked No. 6 in Division 5 and carrying a combined 40-6 record over the last four seasons. McBain is right there at 35-16 over five straight winning campaigns. 

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Marquette (7-3) at Traverse City West (6-4), Ludington (3-6) at Petoskey (3-6). FRIDAY Charlevoix (8-2) at East Jordan (6-3), Traverse City Central (12-2) vs. St. Joseph (8-5) at Ferris State. 

Southeast & Border

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (7-3) at Clinton (9-3), Thursday

While it would be easy to put the matchup of traditional heavies Hudsonville and Saline here, there’s a lot to talk about as well with Notre Dame Prep taking a trip to Clinton. This will be another nonleague game that eventually should benefit both in playoff points – win or lose. Notre Dame Prep is opening ranked No. 5 in Division 5, while Clinton is No. 5 in Division 6 coming off last season’s District title.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Carleton Airport (4-5) at Ida (8-3), Hudsonville (4-5) at Saline (9-1), Jackson (5-5) at Monroe (4-5). FRIDAY Blissfield (3-6) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (11-2).

Southwest Corridor

Reading (6-4) at White Pigeon (10-2), Thursday

This could be a preview of a Division 8 playoff matchup, as both are expected to be among contenders – Reading entering the season ranked No. 5 and White Pigeon No. 7. They’ve managed to elude each other in playoffs past although that nearly came to an end last fall, when Reading fell to eventual champion Hudson in a District opener and White Pigeon was edged by the Tigers 8-0 in the Regional Final. 

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Battle Creek Harper Creek (7-4) at Battle Creek Lakeview (7-4), Zeeland West (6-3) at Stevensville Lakeshore (7-4), East Lansing (7-4) at Portage Central (9-3). FRIDAY Berrien Springs (10-1) at Kalamazoo United (8-4). 

Upper Peninsula

Iron Mountain (7-4) at Negaunee (8-3), Thursday

The Mountaineers have won all three matchups since this one went to opening night in 2018, but by only three, three and two points – 14-12 last season – respectively. Starting with a win is even more important as they’re both likely to contend again in the always-loaded Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper. Additionally, Iron Mountain enters this fall ranked No. 9 in Division 8. 

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Sault Ste. Marie (6-3) at Escanaba (1-8). FRIDAY Calumet (9-3) at Gladstone (4-6), Ishpeming Westwood (10-2) at Houghton (5-4), Menominee (5-5) at Marinette, Wis. (0-9). 

West Michigan

Edwardsburg (12-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (9-2), Thursday

Edwardsburg has lived among the elite for more than a decade, its only loss last season in the Division 4 Semifinal to Hudsonville Unity Christian. The Eddies enter this weekend ranked No. 5 in that division but facing an opponent that took a mighty step last season toward returning to championship contender status. The Falcons improved three wins last fall and enter this one ranked No. 2 in Division 6. 

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Holt (7-3) at Caledonia (10-2), Whitehall (8-3) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (13-1), Montague (8-4) at Spring Lake (6-4). FRIDAY Grand Rapids Christian (7-4) at Grand Rapids South Christian (8-4).


Mendon (8-3) at Martin (11-1), Friday

These league foes met twice last season, Martin winning 28-20 during the regular season and 41-22 in a Division 1 Regional Final. The first round decided the Southwest Michigan 8-Man Football League Tier 1 championship, and this one could eventually do the same. Martin enters ranked No. 4 in Division 1, and Mendon is No. 8 in Division 2.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Pickford (7-3) at Gaylord St. Mary (5-5), Suttons Bay (12-1) at Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (7-3), Morrice (10-1) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (7-3). FRIDAY Vestaburg (6-4) at Portland St. Patrick (9-1).

Second Half’s weekly “1st & Goal” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTO A rainbow decorates the pregame sky last season at Otsego. (Photo by Gary Shook.)

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.)