After Growing Up in Program, Giesige Earns Place Among Whiteford Greats

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

October 26, 2021

Cole Giesige had a big smile on his face when he went into the Ottawa Lake Whiteford huddle during the fourth quarter of Friday night’s win at Erie Mason.

Giesige normally is a running back for the Bobcats, but he is also the backup quarterback for the team. When Whiteford built a big lead Friday to clinch the outright Tri-County Conference championship, Whiteford head coach Jason Mensing inserted Giesige at quarterback.

On the first play, Mensing called Giesige’s number. He then put his arm around the 6-foot-1 senior and called the play.

“He said, ‘You are two yards away from 1,000. Do you want to get it on this play?’ Giesige recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ I was smiling when I went into the huddle.”

Giesige kept the ball and sliced his way through the Erie Mason defensive line for a six-yard gain. Goal accomplished. It was his final carry of the game, but it was a big one. It gave him 1,004 yards for the season.

“The line said, ‘All right, we’re going to get this for you’ and they did,” Giesige said. “I knew I had 909 coming into the game, but I didn’t know where I was at that point. When coach told me, I just started to smile.”

Reaching 1,000 yards has been a goal for Giesige since he was summoned to the varsity his sophomore season. 

“That was one thing I set out to do,” Giesige said. “When I was a sophomore and I knew I was going to be on the varsity, I put goals on my walls, and one of them was 1,000 yards in a season. I’m glad I was finally able to accomplish that.” 

Mensing said that after a big JV season as a freshman, Giesige was destined to be a big part of the Whiteford football team for the next three seasons.

“He’s a great kid,” Mensing said. “We knew when he was a sophomore and we brought him up that we were going to be relying on him to make big plays. He’s done a nice job.”

On Friday, Whiteford finished the regular season with an 8-1 record and No. 2 in playoff points in Division 8. The Bobcats are among favorites to make a deep run in the playoffs. 

Ottawa Lake Whiteford footballGiesige was in eighth grade when the Bobcats made its best-ever playoff run – winning the 2017 Division 8 championship. Giesige played middle school football for the Bobcats that season, but served a role for the varsity as well – he was on the Whiteford sideline for the Final at Ford Field, charting defensive plays for the coaching staff.

“He’s been a part of the program for a long time,” Mensing said.

The son of Troy and Kim Giesige is also an accomplished baseball and basketball player at Whiteford. He was an all-state pitcher last year for the Bobcats baseball team that reached the Quarterfinals, and he is fielding offers to play the sport after high school. He led the Whiteford basketball team in scoring last winter. 

“He is a competitor that has a passion to improve at his craft daily,” Mensing said. “He has high expectations for himself and those around him.”

It’s been an outstanding football season for Giesige. He has done a little bit of everything for the Bobcats.

Heading into Friday’s playoff opener, he has scored 25 touchdowns and converted nine two-point conversions for 168 points. He’s rushed for 18 touchdowns, caught four touchdown passes, returned two kickoffs for scores, and went 100 yards on an interception return in Week 8 against Petersburg Summerfield. 

He now holds the record for longest kickoff return (95 yards) and longest interception return (100 yards) in school history. He’s moving up the charts in season and career touchdowns. He averages 9.3 yards per carry and nearly 23 yards per reception. His kickoff return average is 40 yards per attempt.

Mensing said scoring touchdowns isn’t all that he does.

“He is a solid blocker, a good ball catcher and obviously a back with good vision and ability to cut,” the 10th-year Whiteford coach said.

Whiteford has been on a roll of late. The Bobcats enter the postseason on a five-game winning streak and are averaging 52 points per game. During the win streak, they have scored 58, 54, 76, 46 and 62 points. 

Giesige is one of just five seniors on the team, but they all play important roles. Two-way tackle Noah Bauman is a two-time all-stater and makes an impact on both sides of the ball. Jack Andrews was a center as a sophomore but was converted to tight end and he has caught four touchdowns this season. Ty Ruddy is a team leader and two-way starter, and linebacker Levi Hillard is among the team’s top tacklers.

Thanks to that core group, the Bobcats are primed and ready to make noise in the playoffs. 

“I’m not really certain how it compares to years past as each team and journey is so unique,” Mensing said. “I do know we have a great group of guys that I think want to keep competing together a little longer.”

Doug 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) Ottawa Lake Whiteford’s Cole Giesige runs the ball during a win over Petersburg Summerfield this season. (Middle) Giesige (far left) walks with the coaching staff during halftime of Whiteford’s 2017 Division 8 Final at Ford Field. (Top photo by Natalie McCormack; middle photo by Cari Hayes.)

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.)