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.)

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.)