1st & Goal: 2023 Week 1 Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

August 24, 2023

This Michigan high school football season is heating up in a hurry.

MI Student AidOf course, this is always one of the most highly-anticipated opening weekends on the school sports schedule – and we kick off this fall’s 14-week run with 493 teams playing 11-player football and 106 playing 8-player.

More literally concerning the heat wave affecting much of the state, the list of games changing days or kickoff times as a precaution is growing; check out the MHSAA Scores page for updates as we receive them.

More than 250 varsity games are scheduled to be broadcast this weekend on MHSAA.tv, including all 16 being played at Wayne State as part of the Xenith Prep Kickoff Classic, University of Michigan as part of the Battle at the Big House and Kettering University as part of the Vehicle City Gridiron Classic. Click the names of the events for specific broadcast landing pages for those showcases.

Here’s a look at some of the matchups with the most intrigue from all over the state, including headliners from the three events referred to above. What you see below may not represent all of the schedule changes we are receiving, but again follow the MHSAA Scores page for updated dates and times – and all weekend for scores as they’re submitted.

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

Belleville (14-0) vs. River Rouge (5-4), Friday

Expectations couldn’t be higher for Belleville, which has won the last two Division 1 championships and 25 straight games and returns quarterback Bryce Underwood and running back/linebacker Jeremiah Beasley among standouts, and that makes this 7 p.m. kickoff arguably the most highly-anticipated in the state. But River Rouge was much better than its record last season, losing to two eventual Finals champions over its final three games as it finished its first season under a new coach – a scenario Belleville finds itself in this fall.

More Xenith games: THURSDAY Walled Lake Western (9-2) vs. Waterford Mott (8-3), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (7-3) vs. West Bloomfield (8-2). FRIDAY Allen Park (7-4) vs. Taylor (4-5). SATURDAY Detroit Cass Tech (9-4) vs. Southfield Arts & Technology (8-3), Detroit Martin Luther King (10-3) vs. Cincinnati St. Xavier (5-7). 

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

Goodrich (12-2) vs. Frankenmuth (13-1), Friday

Both finished their 2022 seasons at Ford Field, Frankenmuth the runner-up in Division 5 after a last-second Gladwin game-winning field goal and Goodrich runner-up in Division 4 after Grand Rapids South Christian dealt the Martians their only loss since opening night. That opening night had seen Frankenmuth defeat Goodrich 27-2, and several contributors from that game will find themselves in bigger roles as this season begins on a big stage.

More Big House games: THURSDAY Lake Orion (4-6) vs. Livonia Stevenson (4-5), South Lyon East (7-3) vs. White Lake Lakeland (4-5), Lapeer (7-3) vs. Ann Arbor Huron (5-5). FRIDAY Caledonia (12-2) vs. Romeo (8-3), Clarkston (10-3) vs. Northville (8-3). 

Vehicle City Gridiron Classic – Kettering University – Atwood Stadium

Davison (9-2) vs. Warren De La Salle Collegiate (13-1), Friday

Like Belleville, De La Salle is on a two-season championship streak after claiming the last two Division 2 titles by large margins, and the Pilots’ only loss over the last two years was by a point last September to league opponent Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice. There will be new faces in key places in these lineups as well, especially after De La Salle graduated its quarterback of the last three seasons and Davison has a new starter at that position as well.  

More Vehicle City games: THURSDAY Mt. Morris (2-7) vs. Clio (2-7). FRIDAY Flint Hamady (10-2) vs. Harper Woods Chandler Park (4-5), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (2-7) vs. Flint Kearsley (3-6). 

Bay & Thumb

Mount Pleasant (9-2) at Saginaw Heritage (7-3)

After spending most of the last two decades as part of a one-division Saginaw Valley League or in the same division when the league was split, these two are heading into a second-straight season in different divisions with Mount Pleasant a reigning co-champion in the North (now Blue) and Heritage coming off finishing third in the Red. They didn’t face each other last season, but the Oilers had won this matchup nine straight times before that – although expectations are rising in Saginaw Township as the Hawks won their most games last season since 2006.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Clarkston Everest Collegiate (9-4) at Ubly (13-1), Saginaw Swan Valley (7-4) at Croswell-Lexington (7-3), Millington (10-2) at Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (10-2). FRIDAY Harbor Beach (8-2) at Marine City Cardinal Mooney (8-3).

Greater Detroit

Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (5-6) at Roseville (8-3)

Roseville has posted its winningest two seasons over the last two years and rolled through the second half of 2022 before running into eventual Division 2 champion De La Salle in a District Final. A win over Rice in this season opener would be considered another serious step, as the Warriors were much better than their record last year may have seemed to indicate. Rice, as noted above, is the only team to defeat De La Salle over the last two seasons.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Parma Western (6-4) at Dearborn Divine Child (9-3). FRIDAY Rochester Adams (10-2) at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (5-6).


Haslett (6-4) at DeWitt (9-4)

The rivalry got some juice again last season at Michigan Stadium, as the Panthers hung on for a 21-14 victory. Two sets of siblings will be the main focus as this one kicks off. Haslett will pursue its first win in the series since 2005 paced by dynamic playmaker Nakai Amachree, who returned a kick and a punt for touchdowns in last year’s meeting, and younger brother Kory will be tough to stop as well. Junior twins Elliott and Abram Larner, meanwhile, shined as sophomores on a DeWitt team that reached the Division 3 Semifinals in November.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Saline (8-3) at Brighton (8-2), Holt (7-4) at Mason (12-1), Portland (10-2) at Ovid-Elsie (8-3).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Midland (10-2) at Cadillac (5-5)

These two were league champions last season, Midland sharing in the SVL North and Cadillac winning the Big North Conference while also playing one of the most crushing nonleague schedules in the state – five of the Vikings’ opponents finished the regular season 8-1. Midland won last year’s matchup, 27-21 at home, but this time must make the trip west.

Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Traverse City St. Francis (13-1) at Charlevoix (8-2), Standish-Sterling (8-2) at Boyne City (9-1), Traverse City West (2-7) at Gaylord (6-4).

Southeast & Border

Livonia Franklin (10-2) at Dexter (12-1), Friday

Dexter graduated serious star power from the group that produced the program’s longest playoff run and just missed making the Division 2 Final. But long forgotten are the days when the Dreadnaughts were among the last teams seeking to make the playoffs for the first time – and after five straight postseason appearances, this fall will provide another chance to show how far the program has come. Franklin has made the playoffs eight straight seasons and also is coming off one of its best as it reached double-digit wins last fall for the fourth time – making this one of the most intriguing season openers statewide outside of the three weekend showcases.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Warren Michigan Collegiate (10-2) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (6-6), Whitmore Lake (6-3) at Manchester (6-5). FRIDAY Tecumseh (10-1) at Jackson Northwest (5-4).

Southwest Corridor

Grand Rapids West Catholic (13-1) at Edwardsburg (11-2), Friday

This is another one many have had circled, especially after West Catholic last season won the matchup 28-20 – handing Edwardsburg its first regular-season defeat since 2017. The Falcons went on to win the Division 6 championship, while the Eddies reached the Division 4 Semifinals and were a touchdown from returning to Ford Field as well. West Catholic graduated much of its offensive firepower but returns important leaders on defense, and they’ll be tested right away by an Edwardsburg offense that has topped 4,000 yards rushing eight of the last nine seasons (with COVID-shortened 2020 the only exception during that time.)

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Lawton (9-3) at Benton Harbor (4-5), East Lansing (8-4) at Portage Central (4-5). FRIDAY Portage Northern (7-4) at Vicksburg (5-5).

Upper Peninsula 

Houghton (6-4) at Iron Mountain (11-2)

These two are playing a nonleague game this time after finishing fourth and second, respectively, in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper in 2022. Iron Mountain reached the Division 8 Semifinals last fall and has moved into the Iron division of the league this season as the West-PAC has added three teams to the Copper from the Great Northern Conference. Houghton remains in the Copper and will be looking to avenge last season’s 28-6 loss to the Mountaineers, which was followed by the Gremlins’ best finish since 2013.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Ishpeming (4-6) at Negaunee (13-1). FRIDAY Bark River-Harris (8-3) at Ishpeming Westwood (4-5), Marquette (3-6) at Gladstone (9-3).

West Michigan

Rockford (10-1) at Muskegon (11-3), Friday

A few others listed above are in contention, but this has to be the most highly-anticipated opening-weekend matchup outside of the showcase events. League opponents most recently in 2011, these west-side powers haven’t faced each other since 2013. Muskegon returned to Ford Field last season, finishing Division 3 runner-up, and returns the majority of its offensive playmakers from that lineup including quarterback M’Khi Guy and running back Jakob Price. Rockford’s only loss last fall was by a point in a District Final to eventual Division 1 runner-up Caledonia, and the Rams also return a major player on both sides of the ball in senior Ryan Ahern.  

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Hudsonville Unity Christian (6-5) at Whitehall (11-1), New Lothrop (10-3) at Muskegon Catholic Central (8-3), Cedar Springs (5-5) at East Grand Rapids (4-6). FRIDAY Kingsley (7-3) at Reed City (11-2).


Martin (11-2) at Colon (10-1), Friday

These have become two of the strongest programs in 8-player football, but they head into this fall with some unfamiliarity. Martin is 40-6 in 8-player football and the reigning Division 1 champion, but graduated much of its nucleus from that title-winning team. Colon is 51-7 in 8-player but enters with a new coach for the first time since making the format switch in 2018. The Magi’s only loss last season came by two points in a Regional Final to eventual Division 2 runner-up Mendon.

Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Brown City (10-2) at Peck (7-3), Gaylord St. Mary (8-3) at Pickford (6-3). FRIDAY Morrice (9-3) at Breckenridge (8-3), Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (8-0) at Climax-Scotts (8-2), Rudyard (6-3) at Munising (11-1).

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 X (Twitter) @mistudentaid.

PHOTO Mount Pleasant takes the field during the 2022 season. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.

Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.

“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.

“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”

That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.

He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.

“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better. 

“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”

Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.

His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.

“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).

“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.

Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.

“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”

The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.

"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.

“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.

Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.

“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”

Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”

Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.

“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.

"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.

“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”

Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”

Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.

“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”

The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.

“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”

Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes. 

“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.

“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”

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 [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)