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.)

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.)