Dread Not: Jacobs Directing Dexter Rise

September 28, 2018

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

DEXTER – Dexter has long had outstanding football facilities, a large fan base and the support of school officials. What it hasn’t had in recent years is a winning football team.

With each passing week, however, it looks like that is about the change.

The Dreadnaughts enter tonight’s game at Tecumseh with a 3-2 record and legitimate chance to make a run at the MHSAA football playoffs over the next few weeks. What’s remarkable is Dexter is seeking its first appearance in the tournament, which began in 1975.

“The previous coaches were good guys,” said superintendent Chris Timmis. “They tried hard to get things going. Sometimes it’s about timing.”

The timing right now has a lot to do with the arrival of head coach Phil Jacobs. The Adrian native spent nearly two decades on the Maples staff, including 11 seasons as head coach. He stepped down as the head coach after the 2014 season and spent two seasons as an assistant at Siena Heights University, before he was brought into the Dexter fold by Timmis, his former boss at Adrian.

“It took a lot of persuasion,” Timmis said.

Jacobs called it a “full-court press” to lure him back. Whatever it was, it looks like a successful move for Dexter.

“I was confident it would be,” Timmis said. “What I knew about Phil from when I was superintendent and principal at Adrian was he is a fantastic teacher. When we were working on a lot of academic improvement, Phil had a model classroom. I knew what he could bring to us was a lot more than just a football coach.”

Dexter was looking to hire a football coach a couple of years ago when Timmis made a short list of coaches from across the state that had rebuilt programs. Jacobs was on the list but wasn’t interested in coaching himself. Dexter made a hire, but it was short-lived. That coach left after only a short time on the job.

Timmis called up Jacobs.

“I told him I wanted to talk to him again,” he said. “I think it was meant to be.”

Jacobs came on board in late April and started working with the Dreadnaughts players, getting them into the weight room in particular. Dexter went 0-9 in 2017, but as the season went on, Jacobs and others saw progress.

“He was putting the pieces together,” Timmis said.

Dexter began this season with a 41-game losing streak and lost the season opener. In Week 2, however, Dexter pulled out a 36-22 win over Ypsilanti Community to break the streak. The next week the Dreadnaughts won again, this time a 37-14 win over Ann Arbor Huron. In Week 5, they topped Adrian, 42-30, as junior receiver Antwan Ficklen caught six passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns to lead Dexter to the win. Sophomore quarterback Colin Parachek threw for more than 300 yards and ran for a couple of touchdowns.

The Dreadnaughts aren’t just winning – they are exciting. Through five games, Dexter is averaging 30.8 points per game.

That Adrian win leaves Dexter with regular-season games against Tecumseh (2-3), Pinckney (1-4), Ypsilanti Lincoln (4-1) and Whitehall (3-2). Win three, and the team is automatically in the playoffs.

Jacobs points to three differences with this season’s Dexter team. For one, the players’ commitment to the weight room is paying off.

“We are stronger. With strength comes confidence,” Jacobs said. “We are nowhere near where we want to be or can be, but we are headed in the right direction.”

Another difference is the players’ football knowledge is growing. With each week of practice, each week of repetition, Jacobs said the players are learning more about the game.

“Our football I.Q. is so much better than last year,” Jacobs said. “Last year, we were yelling things from the sidelines on every play, ‘get here,’ ‘get there.’ This year, we aren’t doing that as much. Our kids are learning. They speak our terms now.”

Lastly, Jacobs said having enough numbers so that his players are starting on only one side of the ball has paid huge dividends.

“In the third and fourth quarters, they are fresh,” he said. “They are learning one position. Plus, when you get your athletes playing on only one side of the ball, it frees them up to play special teams. You find creative ways to get your best kids on the field.”

Dexter’s most recent winning season was a 5-4 finish in 2010. The Dreadnaughts have had two winning seasons total during their players’ lifetimes.

“It’s great to see the kids believe in themselves,” Timmis said. “The whole community is feeling it right now.”

Dexter athletic director Mike Bavineau said the school and community are excited about the football team. There’s a buzz in the halls and at the Dexter field on Friday nights.

“The kids are excited, everyone is excited,” he said. “When you can win a little bit, it breeds confidence.”

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) Dexter coach Phil Jacobs gives his players some pointers on the sideline. (Middle) Quarterback Colin Parachek works to elude a pair of Ann Arbor Huron defenders. (Below) Students fill the stands to support the Dreadnaughts. (Photos by Terry Jacoby.)

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.)