Brogan Shepherds Lumen Christi Legacy

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

November 17, 2017

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

JACKSON – It has been nearly 38 years since Herb Brogan became head football coach at Jackson Lumen Christi. It is hard to imagine anyone facing tougher circumstances in a promotion than he did early in 1980.

Lumen Christi was coming off its second Class B championship in three seasons, this one capping an undefeated season. Head coach Jim Crowley was named the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Class B Coach of the Year, and Brogan had been on the varsity staff since 1973 and had been part of the program since 1971.

It was a close coaching staff, but everything changed on the first Friday night of 1980. Crowley confronted a man in his driveway as he returned home from picking up his daughter. After sending his daughter inside, Crowley was shot and killed, leaving the Jackson community shocked and saddened.

At age 30, Brogan was chosen to succeed Crowley, his friend and mentor who had been the coach at rival St. John while Brogan played for St. Mary. The two schools merged in 1968, and Crowley was named head coach. Crowley and Brogan formed a strong friendship during their years together, and Brogan was the obvious choice to be the new head coach after Crowley’s sudden death.

“You’re in shock,” Brogan said of his recollections of that tragic night. “It played out slowly, and it was a long, long night. I remember that.”

Taking over the program under those circumstances was challenging for Brogan.

“It was hard just because I missed Jim,” he said. “I had the support of his family, and the coaching staff remained the same and constant, and the kids bonded together. We just worked our way through it.”

A year later, the MHSFCA created the Jim Crowley Award, and continues to hand it out each season.

Through the years, Brogan put his own stamp on the program, but the Crowley influence always has been evident to those who could recognize it.

“A lot of the plays are the same; that play-action pass is the way we ran it back then,” Brogan said. “He established the foundation, and a lot of the things are run the same way. Circumstances have changed, but the tradition has stayed the same.”

Maintaining tradition

Brogan’s first two teams both finished the regular season undefeated. In 1980, Lumen Christi lost to Farmington Hills Harrison 7-6 in the Class B Regional, and in 1981, the 9-0 Titans were denied a playoff spot despite outscoring their opponents by a combined score of 301-26.

From 1981-94, Lumen Christi made the playoffs just twice but still had 12 winning seasons out of 14 and never finished worse than 4-5. In 1995, Lumen Christi had an unbeaten regular season and won a playoff game before losing to Detroit Country Day.

The following season, Lumen Christi won its third MHSAA title – and the first with Brogan as head coach – and the most prolonged successful run in school history was underway.

Since 1992, Lumen Christi has not been worse than 6-3 in any season. It also has 263 wins – an average of more than 10 per season over 26 seasons. The Titans won seven MHSAA championships during that run, including two capping back-to-back 14-0 seasons in 2000-01.

Brogan said each title brought its own satisfaction.

“They are all different, and the kids are different,” he said. “Sometimes you expect it, like in 2000 and 2001 and in 1996. It would have been a disappointment if we didn’t win those.”

And sometimes the expectations are not as high. At the beginning of the 2016 season, Brogan saw promise in his young team but was unsure how things would turn out. It did not look real promising after the Titans started 1-2.

“The team did what we hoped it would do,” he said. “We knew we weren’t going to be very good early on, and we weren’t, but we were young and we had a chance to get a lot better and we did.”

Lumen Christi ran the table, winning its last 11 games with a few key victories along the way. One of those came in the sixth week against Coldwater.

“The Coldwater game that we won in overtime was a big confidence booster because we had already lost two games at that point,” senior fullback/linebacker Kyle Minder said. “It was a big game to win.”

Senior left guard Austin Maynard, then a junior, pointed to the victory over Schoolcraft in the Division 6 District Final as a key point in the season.

“We found out we can win it all because that team was probably the best we faced all year,” he said. “When we won that game, we looked at each other saying. ‘It’s possible that we could win it all.’ “

The 11-game run was capped with a 26-14 victory over Maple City Glen Lake at Ford Field in Detroit.

“It was what everyone dreams about; the feeling that happens when you win is indescribable,” Maynard said. “It feels like you are on top of the world and nothing can bring you down. You know all the hard work that you put in during the summer paid off.”

The players, however, wanted more.

“They have embraced the challenge of being the defending champions,” Brogan said. “We’ll see what happens, but it’s been on their minds ever since we walked off Ford Field last year.”

Driven to repeat

Brogan does not shy away from scheduling a tough foe or two in the non-conference, and this season the Titans opened against four-time reigning Division 5 champion Grand Rapids West Catholic for the second year in a row. They knocked off the Falcons 27-24 to get the season off to a rousing start.

“In the non-conference, there is nobody better to play than Grand Rapids West Catholic,” senior tight end/defensive end Cameron White said. “Just having them on our schedule is great, and to come out with a win was awesome.”

One of the neat aspects for this group of players is that it is the first to complete an entire season of playing its home games at the high school. In the past, Lumen Christi has always played its home games at Withington Community Stadium, which is located at Jackson High School. A few years ago, Lumen Christi opened its own field and eventually ended up playing all of its home games there.

“I was a little bit concerned about that because Withington is such a nice venue, and we wondered how the kids would accept it, but they love it,” Brogan said. “I think the kids in the school like it, and they have their own little section down there in the end zone and there is a lot of enthusiasm down there.

“It’s nice getting dressed here and walking out to play a ballgame.”

It certainly has been a hit with the players.

“It’s nice to be at our own school and not have to travel for home games,” senior receiver/defensive end Sam Mizner said. “It’s nice to have that LC in the middle of the field all of the time.”

Maynard said it’s a different feeling to be playing on the school grounds.

“When we played at Jackson High, they are one of our biggest rivals in football, so playing there you just didn’t feel at home,” he said. “Here we are playing in front of our home crowd at home.”

This year’s team is experienced with strong line play, and one improvement over last year – at least statistically – is on defense. The Titans have allowed an average of 12.8 points per game after giving up 17 a year ago.

“Offensively, we’re physical, and we have a great offensive line,” Brogan said. “I’d say that’s the strength of our team. We’ve been able to block everybody all year long. We have two good tailbacks who have rushed for 1,800 yards and a fullback who has rushed for 750. Our quarterback has thrown for about 1,200 yards and completed 68 percent. We haven’t thrown it a lot, but we have thrown it effectively off our play-action stuff. When we have been able to run it well, we’ve been able to hurt people.

“It’s an experienced group. Most of these kids had a role in the state championship last year. We returned a lot. It’s a mature group. They are fun to coach and fun to be around. They enjoy themselves and play hard and play with intensity, but they have a lot of fun doing it.”

Lumen Christi played an eight-game schedule this regular season and went 7-1 with a one-point loss to Battle Creek Harper Creek in the third week of the season.

“I think it was a very good point in the season when we ended up losing,” White said. “It was a wake-up call that everything wasn’t going to be easy and everything wasn’t going to be given to us.

“It showed that we need to work that much harder.”

Lumen Christi will take an eight-game winning streak into its Division 6 Semifinal on Saturday. The first eight Finals championships in school history were either in Class B or Division 5, but declining enrollment dropped the Titans to Division 6 in 2014. But that hasn’t necessarily meant an easier road to a title. This year, perennial powers Ithaca and Traverse City St. Francis are meeting in the other Semifinal game.

“Last year, I thought Division 5 was more difficult than Division 6, but overall this year, Division 6 is probably more difficult than Division 5,” Brogan said. “What I have found over the years is that there are really good teams in every division, just the further down you go there are less of them.

“We felt last week that seven of the eight teams who were left could win it, and now, any of the four could win it.”

Brogan – The Leader

With a lengthy resume as impressive as Brogan’s, there is no doubt who is in charge. And the players know of him long before they ever play for him.

“When you come into the program in seventh grade, you look at Coach and he’s a very intimidating guy,” Maynard said. “You know the hard work that he is going to put you through just from the stories you’ve heard, and true football players want that; they want coaches to come up to you and challenge you and put you through the most difficult workouts you’ve ever been through.”

And, when they mess up, they will hear about it.

“At first, you are scared of making a mistake, but you have to do everything 100 percent,” Mizner said. “You know you are going to get yelled at because you’re not perfect, but things will happen and you’ll get better during the season.”

Brogan will coach with an iron fist, but he isn’t one to run up the score. Often during his career a 28-0 halftime lead ended with something like a 35-0 victory.

He preaches clean play and will not tolerate any of his players doing something that might be deemed dirty. His players told of one such instance this season. One of the Titans pushed an opposing player after the play, and as White told it, that player felt the wrath of Brogan.

“Coach Brogan got in his face,” White said. “It solved the problem, and the player learned his lesson. And he learned his lesson at conditioning, too.”

And finally, there is a saying around football circles in Jackson. It goes something like this: “If Lumen Christi is close at halftime, the coaches will more often make the proper halftime adjustments to give the Titans the edge in the second half.”

In typical style of the low-key coach, Brogan directs that credit to his assistant coaches.

“I think we have a great coaching staff, and honestly, they do a lot more of that stuff than I do,” he said. “We have an offensive staff and an offensive coordinator and a defensive staff and a defensive coordinator, and my job is to sit here and talk to the media.”

Brogan is fifth all-time in coaching wins in the state of Michigan and second among active coaches. His career record is 341-83, and he is one of just 10 coaches to reach 300 career victories. He doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

“It’s still fun,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of classes anymore, and in the offseason I can kind of do what I want to do. I’m coaching with great guys and coaching great kids.

“I’ll be here as long as these guys want me around.”

Chip Mundy served as sports editor at the Brooklyn Exponent and Albion Recorder from 1980-86, and then as a reporter and later copy editor at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot from 1986-2011. He also co-authored Michigan Sports Trivia. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Lumen Christi players stand arm-in-arm. (Middle top) Titans coach Herb Brogan talks things over with his players. (Middle below) Lumen Christi fullback Kyle Minder, left, leads the way for tailback Sebastian Toland. (Below) The Titans are succeeding again behind a powerful offensive line. (Photos courtesy of the Jackson Lumen Christi football program.)

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.)