Burns Taking Turn in Family Tradition By Leading Tecumseh to Memorable Start

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

September 13, 2022

TECUMSEH – At a recent Tecumseh football practice, head coach Greg Dolson watched his senior quarterback Jake Burns make the right read on run-pass option play, and Dolson turned to assistant coach Al Romano. 

Southeast & Border“I said, ‘I’m really going to miss that kid,’” Dolson recalled. 

The Tecumseh coaching staff isn’t rushing anything yet. They are hoping to have Burns at the helm of the offense for the rest of the regular season and hopefully into the postseason. Tecumseh is 3-0 and off to its best start since 2012, playing with a stacked deck on offense, with numerous weapons but perhaps none more important than the multi-sport athlete Burns.  

He’s the glue that bonds the Tecumseh line with the backs and receivers and has the team scoring about 47 points a game. 

“Jake has really matured,” Dolson said. “He doesn’t like the spotlight. You could see last year he really started coming into his own. This year he is playing at such a high level. It’s exciting watching him grow.” 

Burns, 17, is a senior and Tecumseh through-and-through. His grandfather and his grandfather’s family played sports at Tecumseh. His dad Brian played at Tecumseh. Now, Jake’s turn to wear No. 2 – just like his dad – and represent the family on Friday nights under the lights. 

“There’s been a long line of Burnses going through Tecumseh,” the senior QB said. 

Jake Burns might be the best of them before he’s through.  

“He is poised to take us on a playoff run,” Dolson said.  

Under his leadership, Tecumseh is hoping to keep things rolling Friday against rival Adrian and make some noise in the Division 4 playoffs.  

“It’s a great feeling,” Burns said. “We all worked really hard in the offseason. We worked really hard in the weight room. It’s a great feeling to be where we are at.” 

Burns has played a huge role in each of Tecumseh’s first three wins. 

Burns works to elude a Gull Lake rusher during a Week 2 victory.Against Michigan Center he threw for 132 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 79 yards and a score. In Week 2 against Richland Gull Lake, Burns threw four touchdown passes and had nearly 300 yards of total offense. In the Southeastern Conference White opener last week against Pinckney, he had 120 yards rushing and 116 yards passing. He scored on an 81-yard run. 

Tecumseh went 4-5 last year, and Burns said that left a bad taste in the players’ mouths. 

“We all want to win,” Burns said. “Last year didn’t fit our standards. We all knew we couldn’t settle. We got the younger kids involved in the weight room and active, and it’s really awesome to see it pay off.” 

Tecumseh runs the spread offense that is directed by Romano, a Hall of Fame coach who guided Erie Mason to the Class C championship in 1987 and has coached at the high school and college levels for years. He returned to high school football a couple of seasons ago to become Dolson’s offensive coordinator. It’s been a perfect fit with he and Burns. 

“I enjoy playing quarterback. I couldn’t be more thankful for Coach Romano,” Burns said. “He’s always looking out for me and helps me so much. It’s great to have a mentor like that.” 

Romano and Dolson have put together a great offense in Tecumseh. Junior running back A.J. Bryan is a threat to score every time he touches the football, and receivers like Ryder Zajac, Gavin Chenevey and Jobe Benschoter have already proved their value to the team this season. 

“Every play we run I have the ability to hand it off, keep it myself or throw it,” Burns said. “It’s just a matter of making the right read. We have weapons all over the field.  

“Coach Romano spends a lot of time talking to me and watching film. He is always pulling tricks out of his bag.” 

Dolson said Burns tries to stay out of the spotlight, but it’s tough for the standout to elude. 

“He plays in the neighborhood with all of the little kids, throwing the ball around and stuff,” Dolson said. “He’s in leadership classes at the school and is like a 3.7 student. He goes out of his way to be nice to everyone. He hangs out with his offensive line. Nothing about him is fake, either. He’s genuine.” 

Burns is an elite baseball player as well and hasn’t decided which sport he will play at the next level.  

“Football is special,” he said, “but I love baseball, too. I love both sports. It’s going to be hard to decide.” 

Adrian (2-1) travels to Tecumseh on Friday and is typically its biggest rival on the football field. A win puts Tecumseh in great position with key SEC White battles coming up with Chelsea and Jackson. 

“The game always brings some sort of buzz and hype,” Burns said. “We just want to play the game and get the job done.” 

Burns said this year’s team has a different feel than previous ones he’s played on. Everyone gets along and is working toward the same goals. 

“I think the team leadership is different,” Burns said. “Everyone is friends. We all mesh really well. We enjoy ourselves at practice. We try and have fun. At the end of the day, it’s a game. We want to have fun with it. We believe in each other.” 

Burns is making Tecumseh fans believers, too. 

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) Tecumseh quarterback Jake Burns outruns the Michigan Center defense during a season-opening win. (Middle) Burns works to elude a Gull Lake rusher during a Week 2 victory. (Photos by John Discher.)

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.)