De La Salle Collegiate Quickly Sets Pace, Aces Ford Field Return

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 26, 2021

DETROIT – Rhett Roeser and his Warren De La Salle Collegiate teammates weren’t fond of the feeling they walked away with a year ago following the MHSAA Division 2 Football Final.  

They acted in quick and ruthless fashion Friday to make sure history didn’t repeat itself. 

Led by junior quarterback Brady Drogosh’s four touchdowns and 316 total yards, the Pilots cruised to a 41-14 victory against Traverse City Central at Ford Field, claiming the fourth Finals title in school history. 

“This is a great feeling,” said Roeser, a sophomore running back. “This is what we’ve been working for and what we’ve been striving for. After we lost last year, we knew we were going to be in the same place and we were going to be on the other side of the ball with this one.” 

The Pilots were Division 2 runners-up last season, losing in the Final against Muskegon Mona Shores. They responded with the first unbeaten season in school history, and first title since 2018. 

“We had high expectations for this group and the program,” De La Salle coach Dan Rohn said. “We lost last year in the Finals, and it kind of left a little mark on us. We kind of weren’t ready, and that was a great Shores team; they did some great things. Playing Traverse City Central and getting the opportunity to come back here and compete at the highest level, that was important. But our goal was not to get here, it was to win it, and it’s awesome that we played so well and got off to a quick start.” 

Rohn became the third football coach in MHSAA history to win a Finals title with two schools, as he led Grand Rapids West Catholic to championships in 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Pete Kutches (Muskegon Reeths-Puffer and Muskegon Catholic Central) and Mike Giannone (Macomb Dakota and De La Salle) are the others. 

“To take a little time off and reflect on things, then to get embraced by a community like De La Salle, it means a lot,” Rohn said. “Some people don’t get a chance to come and do this, and I’ve been fortunate to be here seven times and win a number of them. It’s not just about me, it’s about the guys that I surround myself with – the coaches and these players. We have some tremendous kids, tremendous support, and we hope that we can build something really special at De La Salle.” 

De La Salle controlled the game from the outset with a suffocating defense and a balanced offense. Traverse City Central was held to 31 total yards in the first half, and gained 100 of its 149 yards for the game on a pair of drives in the fourth quarter after De La Salle had built a 41-0 lead. 

“Coming in they averaged 50-some points per game, so we knew we had to get off to a good start and punch them in the mouth from the beginning,” said De La Salle senior linebacker Will Beesley, who led the team with eight tackles. “Our motto this week was bring the wood, be the most physical team on every play, and I feel like we did that today.” 

De La Salle/Traverse City Central footballDrogosh had accumulated a solid game’s worth of stats by the time the first half ended. He was 14-of-17 passing for 142 yards and three touchdowns, and he added 128 yards on the ground, including a 45-yard touchdown. He didn’t add to his passing total in the second half, but finished the game with 174 yards on the ground.  

“I’ve been saying all year long that Brady Drogosh is probably the best athlete on the football field,” Rohn said. “There’s a number of positions he could play, and I think a lot of teams would probably play this kid on defense, too, because he runs so well. We’ve played some great competition all year long and he hasn’t hesitated, he hasn’t backed off. We got our passing game going, we got our quick game going and I think that just opens up so many more things for us.” 

The Pilots (13-0) scored on all five of their possessions in the first half, and dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for 17 minutes, 11 seconds and putting together three drives that lasted more than five minutes apiece.  

Roeser opened the scoring with a 1-yard run, closing out a 13-play, 80-yard drive. The Pilots went 62 yards on 12 plays on their second drive, ending with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Drogosh to Triston Nichols. The third touchdown drive was much quicker, as its second play was Drogosh’s 45-yard touchdown run. 

Nichols and Drogosh combined again for a 13-yard score during the final 30 seconds of the second quarter, and following an interception by Devin Schmelter, the Pilots struck again when Drogosh hit Alton McCullum for a 24-yard score. The lone blemish for the Pilots in the first half was a 15-yard penalty following that score which pushed back the extra point try, which missed wide left.  

“Our receivers, they’ve been starting for two years, so we put the ball in their hands a little bit and let them take advantage, and Brady distributed the ball, we didn’t turn it over and we didn’t have penalties,” Rohn said. “When you do all those things and put it together, you’re going to win some football games. We grinded it out a little bit. We didn’t force and try to get big plays. We stuck with the game plan and took what they gave us early, and kind of put them in a position they haven’t been in.” 

DeNiro Johnson added a 1-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter for the Pilots. Jamari Allen set up the score with an interception and return deep into Traverse City Central territory. 

Jack Yanachik led De La Salle receivers with seven catches for 64 yards, while Nichols had five catches for 50 yards. James Milkey finished with 1½ sacks for the Pilots.  

Josh Burnham put the Trojans (12-2) on the board midway through the fourth quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run. Joshua Klug scored on a 24-yard run with 1:28 to play. 

Klug had nine tackles to lead the Trojans, while Burnham had eight. Reed Seabase led the Trojans offense with 56 yards on five carries. 

“These guys mean a lot to me, our staff and our program – and the Traverse City community,” Traverse City Central coach Eric Schugars said. “These guys have just buckled in and committed to the process. They’ve played a lot of football. When you think about it, we played in January last year, and you don’t take off. You take a little bit of time for other sports, but these guys have been with us, they’ve committed to the process and done everything possible.

“I couldn’t be prouder. Obviously, we didn’t play our best game tonight. I really believe we have a best game in us still, and we didn’t play it tonight, and that’s a credit to De La Salle.” 

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PHOTOS (Top) De La Salle’s Brady Drogosh (12) breaks into the open Friday, with Central’s Brayden Halliday (20) in pursuit. (Middle) The Pilots’ Devin Schmelter (18) helps bring down Trojans quarterback Josh Burnham (8). (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)