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.
“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.
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.)
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.
Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.
“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.
“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”
That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.
He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.
He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.
“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better.
“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”
Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.
His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.
“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).
“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.
Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.
“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”
The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.
"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.
On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.
“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.
Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.
“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”
Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”
Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.
“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.
"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”
The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.
“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”
Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”
Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.
“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”
The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.
“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”
Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes.
“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.
“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)