After Finding Fame on 'The Voice,' Lape Making Name at Home as Grass Lake's QB1

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

September 12, 2023

GRASS LAKE – Brayden Lape made a national name for himself while competing on Season 22 of “The Voice” on NBC. 

Southeast & BorderOn Friday nights in south-central Michigan, the Grass Lake junior is becoming Mr. Quarterback.  

“I’ll kid with him all of the time,” Grass Lake head coach Randy Cole said. “I tell him, ‘I want you to be known as a quarterback.’ He’s off to a good start.” 

Lape has directed the Warriors offense during a 3-0 start to the season. In his second as the Grass Lake starting quarterback, Lape is more confident and ready for the heart of the schedule in the expanded Cascades Conference. 

“He’s kind of your classic, tall quarterback with a big arm,” Cole said. “He can move and is athletic, but he’s mainly a pocket passer.” 

Through three games, Lape has thrown for 729 yards while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. Ten have gone for touchdowns. His favorite targets have been Bryant Cook (13 receptions for 263 yards) and Robert Anderson (14-190). He’s completed passes to six receivers. 

“I think this year is a year that we have taken pride in our offense,” Lape said. “We have a lot of threats. It’s hard to stop.” 

Playing football is more than a side gig for Lape, a three-sport athlete at Grass Lake. Cole watched him grow up from a tall, lanky kid with a rocket arm in middle school to a more mature passer in high school. Lape took a lot of snaps as a freshman and moved into the starting role as a sophomore.  

This year his confidence level is at an all-time high. 

“I have my guys now, the guys I’ve played with since I was little,” Lape said. “In my freshman and sophomore years it was awesome to play with older kids, guys who were bigger, faster, and stronger than me. You know you are getting better with every snap. Being able to play a little bit as a freshman helped me. I was able to get the varsity experience.” 

Grass Lake has a rich football tradition with 16 playoff appearances over the last 18 seasons including 12 straight from 2005-16, a Division 7 runner-up finish in 2006 and five more District titles over the last two decades plus more recently finishes of 8-2 in 2018 and 9-2 in 2019.

The last couple of years, however, Lape said, the Warriors weren’t playing as well as they should have. 

“The past two years we weren’t as good as we should have been,” he noted of the team’s 2-7 and 5-5 finishes in 2021 and 2022, respectively. “Last year we lost a game we probably shouldn’t have in the first round of Districts.” 

Grass Lake started this season with wins over Royal Oak Shrine Catholic, Hanover-Horton and Jonesville. The schedule coming up looks daunting, however, with 2-1 East Jackson this week 3-0 Napoleon the next, and 3-0 Manchester down the road.  

The Cascades Conference has expanded to 12 teams and split into East and West divisions. Grass Lake is in the East, which currently has three undefeated teams – the Warriors plus Napoleon and Manchester. 

Lape said the different look to the conference has added something fun to the schedule. 

“It’s something new. We get to play some new teams we haven’t seen before, but we still have our rivals,” he said. “It gives us some different looks. The end goal is to go far in the playoffs. You can go undefeated and lose the first round of Districts and that’s that. You’re out. 

“We have to step up, especially in these next few games,” Lape added. “We cannot settle right now with being 3-0.” 

Lape has done an amazing job balancing high school sports with his other passion – music. 

Lape performs this summer at the Jackson County Fair. While home during COVID-19, he picked up the guitar and began performing. His family encouraged him to audition for “The Voice” and he earned a spot on the show, eventually becoming part of Blake Shelton’s team. After finishing fifth in the competition and capturing the attention of fans nationwide, Lape released his debut single, “Hand It to Ya.” 

This past summer he went on a mini tour of the Atlantic Coast, including a stop in Maine, and played locally at venues like Meckley’s Farm and the Jackson County Fair. He released his second single, “Feels Like the First Time,” just before football practice started in August.  

The son of Kari Ann and Bryan Lape said he has found a way to balance music with sports – all while remaining focused on schoolwork at Grass Lake. 

“This summer I got to play some great gigs,” he said. “My family has really helped me with that. We’ve built out a schedule. I’m busy, but I still have a chance to be a kid.” 

Lape draws parallels between football and music, especially the hard work and dedication it takes to be successful at both. 

“One thing that I’ve realized is singing is not something that is easy,” he said. “It is something that has a lot of tiny things that you don’t see on the outside. If you are pursuing a career, there’s a lot to do.” 

One of those things is being active on social media and engaging with fans. He does that himself.  

Lape said his Grass Lake teammates are his best supporters.  

“They have their little funny comments, but they are just messing around,” he said. “The guys on my team are wanting what is best for me. They really want me to succeed. They listen to my music and let me know things they like and things they thought would be cool. For me, a guy starting his musical career, it’s really helpful.” 

Lape has no plans to give up sports or music. He’s found a way to make both work.  

“You only go to high school once,” he said. “I can only play high school football for these four years. You only get this high school experience once. I am going to continue my music, post as often as I can and play sports. I’m still a kid. I’m still a high school kid.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Brayden Lape takes the field as Grass Lake’s quarterback. (Middle) Lape performs this summer at the Jackson County Fair. (Top photo by Austin Childs, middle photo courtesy of Brayden Lape.)

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

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

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.)