Davison Finds Answers During Fast Start

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

September 11, 2019

It would have made sense if this were a transition year for Davison football.

The Cardinals have just six seniors on this season’s team, four returning starters on defense and five on offense – including two who were playing different positions last fall – and graduated 2018 Flint Area Player of the Year, quarterback Cannon Hall.

As expected, after two games, Davison is … possibly better than a year ago?

The Cardinals, who finished 7-3 last season, are tied at No. 6 in the latest Associated Press Division 1 poll, sitting at 2-0 with big wins against Fenton (54-27) and Bay City Western (69-13). And nobody in the locker room is surprised by it.

“I feel like all of the work we put in the offseason as a group, we kind of expected this outcome,” junior quarterback Brendan Sullivan said. “The mindset that we have at Davison is that no one is going to outwork us. And that work we put in during the offseason gave us confidence coming into the season.”

Sullivan is a major reason for the Cardinals’ early-season success. The quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-quarterback has thrown for 547 yards and nine touchdowns over two weeks. In Week 2, Sullivan threw for 283 yards and five touchdowns – all during the first half.

While those outside the program wondered how the production of Hall would be replaced, the people inside were confident Sullivan was up to the job.

“In 14 years of coaching, he’s the best quarterback I’ve ever been around,” Davison coach Jake Weingartz said. “Last year, he started at wideout for us, and he was all-league at that. This year, he’s worked very hard in the offseason. We knew how good he was, and obviously other people probably did not. He’s not just a thrower, either. We haven’t had to run him a lot, but in Week 1, he carried it for 80 yards and a touchdown.”

Weingartz believes Sullivan is a Power 5 conference Division I college prospect, and notes that his current lack of offers comes from the fact he hadn’t been a varsity starter at the position until this season. The 6-foot-4, 190-pounder does hold a basketball offer from Saginaw Valley State. 

“It’s crazy to see how he doesn’t have any offers,” said Davison senior linebacker Logan Pasko, who is committed to Youngstown State. “He brings the passing aspect to the offense. Cannon was a good thrower, but (Sullivan) really brings accuracy and a deep threat. If he was a Madden player, he’d be 99 overall.”

Sullivan’s favorite target this season has been Latrell Fordham, who has caught 10 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns to lead the team. Sullivan has spread it out, though, as he’s completed passes to seven receivers. A.J. Terry (two), Gabe Smith and Payton Pizzala have each caught a touchdown pass.

“I think it’s very hard to defend us,” Sullivan said. “I can pick which receiver to throw to every play, and the running backs we have are just studs. We’re hard to defend at every level. It makes it easier when you have receivers you can trust and a running back you can trust.”

The Cardinals are averaging 230.5 yards per game on the ground, led by Caleb Smith (145 yards, two TDs) and Carter Cryderman (121 yards, 1 TD). They’re running behind a completely retooled offensive line, which was another major question mark coming into the season that appears to have been answered.

Junior Lucas Edgar is the only returning starter on the line, and he moved from tackle to left guard. He’s joined up front by sophomore Isaac Norton, junior CJ Brady, senior Cam Hunt and junior Yousef Dukuly. The group still has work to do, but has impressed thus far.

“Obviously, they’re all really young, and we have a lot to improve on, which is exciting for our staff to know that group has only played two games together,” Weingartz said. “Essentially, they’ve really only played two halves of football.”

With just six seniors, the other lingering question about the Cardinals would have been leadership, but that’s been handled as well.

“(The junior class has) been pretty strong, but all credit to those six seniors leading that class and leading us to where we are right now,” Sullivan said. 

Pasco, who has paced the defense with 17 tackles through two weeks, said the team doesn’t need much leadership, because “it’s just there.” He’s not afraid to speak up when he has to, though.

“For me and Caleb Smith, we’ve been waiting for this moment since our sophomore year,” Pasco said. “Now that it’s here, it feels like the easiest thing. Whenever something needs to be said, we know that someone is going to step up and say it.”

The Cardinals showed their maturity right away, dominating a veteran-laden Fenton team that has high hopes of its own this season, and doing so with a weather delay that forced the game to be played over the course of two days.

“It was a big game,” Weingartz said. “For our guys to come out and play the way they did, and be mature about it and play the way they did over the course of two days was great to see.”

More big tests await, as the Cardinals’ Saginaw Valley League Blue schedule features three playoff teams from a year ago – Flint Powers Catholic, Grand Blanc and Lapeer. Davison also has nonconference matchups against Grand Ledge and two-time reigning Division 2 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate.

“I think we’re going to be prepared,” Pasco said. “We stay ready so we don’t have to get ready. All of us know what we have to do and what our jobs are. We don’t want any pushovers on our schedule. We want to go out of our comfort zone and really show the state what we have to offer.”

Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Davison defenders bring down a Fenton ball carrier during their Week 1 win over the Tigers. (Middle) Cardinals quarterback Brendan Sullivan locks on to his target. (Photos by Terry Lyons.)

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs 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.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. 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.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. 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.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. 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 ShebestPam 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.)