Brown Enjoys Legendary Debut to Start 2nd Season Directing Erie Mason's Attack

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

August 30, 2022

ERIE – Vaughn Brown never worried about replacing a legend. He just wanted to be the Erie Mason starting quarterback. 

Southeast & BorderAfter a solid rookie season last year, Brown has started out his junior year with a bang. In the Eagles’ season opener Friday, Brown threw eight touchdown passes during the first half, tying a state record, and his right arm has Erie Mason fans thinking a third-straight playoff season is possible. 

“It was one of those nights,” Brown said. “Everything was going well. It kept working. It didn’t matter what we did, they couldn’t stop it.” 

The Eagles beat Saranac, 50-14. Brown threw a 61-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the game and had three TDs in the first quarter. He tossed five more in the second quarter to become just the second player in state history to have eight touchdown passes in a half.  

“Watching film, we knew what their corners and safeties would do,” Brown said. “On the second play of the game, Korbin Herrera went deep and just ran right past a guy. I dropped back, and I knew right then it was going to be a good day. I threw it, and he ran under it and scored. It was a great play.” 

Getting into the Erie Mason passing record book is no easy feat. That’s because the quarterback who Brown replaced last year was Noah Beaudrie, now playing at Mount Union College.  

Beaudrie was a four-year quarterback at Erie Mason and put up some stunning numbers. As a senior in 2020, Beaudrie accumulated more than 1,000 yards rushing and passing. Over his four seasons, he completed 371-of-647 passes for 5,747 yards and 56 touchdowns. He ran for another 4,503 yards and 59 touchdowns.  

Brown rolls right during the win at Olivet College. He earned all-state honors and had multiple college offers before landing at Mount Union, one of the most storied small-college football programs in the nation. 

As a sophomore, Brown had the unenviable task of taking over for Beaudrie. He said he never felt like he had to replace Beaudrie, just help his team win. 

“I knew Noah,” Brown said. “He was super good to me and helped me along the way. I just came into the season just wanting to help last year’s seniors win games. I didn’t care about stats. I never really have cared about that. The stats never crossed my mind.” 

Brown grew up just across the state line in Toledo, Ohio, and moved to Erie Mason before he was in the seventh grade. He was part of the Eagles program when Beaudrie was setting record after record. 

“He was a good mentor. He helped me along the way. Noah was a great athlete and an amazing player in general,” Brown said.

“Me and him play a different type of game. He’s more athletic than me. He liked to run. I’d rather stay in the pocket and throw the ball 100 times a game than run.” 

Erie Mason head coach Steven Bower said Brown has grown into the quarterback position and as a team leader. During the summer Brown never missed a chance to work out, lift weights or get in time with his receivers. 

“He’s the poster child for our program. He does everything,” Bowers said.  

“I hate missing stuff. I enjoy being there and being around the guys,” Brown said. 

During the offseason, Bowers had some of his players go through leadership training. Bowers called it “captain’s classes.” Brown was one of the players to go through the training.  

“The kids have done a good job of listening to him and following him,' Bowers said. “He sets the standard for everyone.” 

Brown was a four-sport athlete last year, playing basketball in the winter and pulling double duty in the spring by playing baseball and running track. 

“Vaughn is a tremendous athlete and leader,” Erie Mason basketball coach Kevin Skaggs said. “In a summer game he had to defend a 6-foot-5 post player in one scrimmage. He outworked, outran, and out rebounded him. He’s a tough, tough kid.” 

Brown (6-0, 170) plays down his basketball abilities. 

“I’m one of those guys who just goes out there, plays defense and rebounds and helps the team win,” Brown said. “I might ride the bench, but I’ll push people in practice and do the best I can.” 

Brown said he gets his work ethic from his parents, Allen and Paige Brown, both Ohio natives. His dad was an all-state defensive lineman in high school.  

“My parents have always instilled in me hard work. They’ve always told me I had to earn everything,” Vaughn Brown said.

“My mom and dad have driven me to so much stuff over the years. I can’t count how many times they gave me rides to sports. My mom would get off work early, and my dad took me places. I’m very grateful for that.” 

Brown said he had never heard of Erie Mason before his parents bought a home in the community. Now he lives right across the street from the school.  

Brown finished Friday’s game with 13 completions on 19 attempts for 358 yards. He completed passes to six receivers.  

“We have five or six guys who are great receivers,” he said. “Friday gave us a lot of confidence. All our guys just played so well. The line blocked great, and the guys made some great catches. I’m excited about what’s to come.”

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) Erie Mason quarterback Vaughn Brown pulls away from a Saranac tackler during Friday’s season opener. (Middle) Brown rolls right during the win at Olivet College. (Photos by Amy Brighton South.)

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.)