Drive for Detroit: Week 1 Preview

August 23, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Football remains the most played high school sport in Michigan, not to mention the most popular for fans who fill our stadiums every fall weekend.

Finally, it’s time to start talking about it again – and you’ve come to the right place.

Below is the first of 14 “Drive for Detroit” weekly previews aimed at giving you the most intriguing games in your corner of the state every week through November’s 11-Player Finals at Ford Field.

The original motivation of our weekly football previews has been to give fans a few games they can check out no matter where they live or might be visiting in our great state. For that reason, you’ll see the games at University of Michigan this weekend under “Southeast & Border” although those teams playing don’t necessarily call that part of the state home, and you’ll find the rest listed under regions where the home team is located even if the away team is from far away. 

With most of the state’s games this weekend split over Thursday and Friday, we’ve also listed which day all of them below will be played – but check out the MHSAA Score Center for the full schedule plus scores all three nights as they come in.

Be sure to check out as well the list of 19 games airing this weekend on, including all three from the Vehicle City Gridiron Classic at Flint’s Atwood Stadium, seven games from the Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State University and all four games from Saturday’s GRidiron Classic at Grand Valley State University.

The weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid. Please click the adjacent linked logo and read below for more information on how MI Student Aid is providing Michigan’s high school students with money to help pay for college.

Bay & Thumb

Marysville (10-1) at Richmond (8-2), Thursday

A 38-21 win over the Blue Devils in last season’s opener was the start to Marysville’s best finish since 2000, as the Vikings’ only loss came in a District Final to eventual Division 4 runner-up Detroit Country Day. Richmond still went on to a perfect run through the Blue Water Area Conference and fifth straight playoff berth, and will look to make it three wins in four years over the reigning Macomb Area Conference Gold champ.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Marine City (4-5) at Algonac (11-2), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (6-4) vs. Grand Blanc (5-5) at Atwood Stadium, Lake Fenton (8-2) at New Lothrop (10-2), FRIDAY Unionville-Sebewaing (9-2) at Ubly (12-1).

Greater Detroit

Macomb Dakota (7-4) at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (10-4), Thursday

A host of intriguing games will be played this weekend as part of the Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State University; four of them are listed below. But it’s tough again to look past this one. The Cougars won the opener with the Eaglets 35-28 a year ago on the way to a 16th straight playoff appearance. St. Mary’s, meanwhile, rebounded to only win a third straight Division 3 championship with a one-point nail-biter over Muskegon in the season’s final game at Ford Field.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Southfield Arts & Technology (8-4) vs. Davison (10-1) at Wayne State University, Walled Lake Western (12-2) vs. West Bloomfield (6-5) at Wayne State University, SATURDAY Oak Park (7-4) vs. Utica Eisenhower (12-1) at Wayne State University, River Rouge (11-2) vs. Detroit East English (5-4) at Wayne State University.


Hudsonville (8-2) at Grand Ledge (7-3), Thursday

Grand Ledge was considered the Lansing area’s best team for most of last season and will vie for that status again with a senior-loaded squad; more on that next week when the Comets take on another contender in DeWitt. Grand Ledge’s only loss through the first eight games last fall was in the opener 21-14 to Hudsonville, which went on to a fourth straight playoff appearance with losses only to Ottawa-Kent Conference Red rivals Rockford and Grandville.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Haslett (4-5) at Fowlerville (7-3), Battle Creek Pennfield (5-5) at Williamston (5-5), FRIDAY Beal City (7-4) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (5-5), East Lansing (6-4) at St. Johns (5-4).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Roscommon (9-2) at Grayling (7-4), Thursday

The Bucks turned a 20-14 opening-night win over Grayling last year into the start of their best season since 2006, including their first playoff appearance since 2012. The Vikings, meanwhile, continued as one of the most consistent programs in the north, putting together their best record in three seasons and seventh playoff appearance in eight seasons.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Big Rapids (3-6) at Cadillac (6-4), FRIDAY Hillman (5-5) at Gaylord St. Mary (6-4), AuGres-Sims (7-3) at Rogers City (4-5), Lansing Sexton (7-4) at Gaylord (4-5).

Southeast & Border

Rockford (7-4) at Saline (11-1), Thursday

A team-wide illness took the Rams out of this much-anticipated matchup a year ago, but it’s a go this week and with no less expectation. After taking a forfeit loss to start and then falling the following week to Lowell, Rockford strung together six straight wins to make the playoffs for a 21st straight season – tied for longest active streak in the state with Menominee. Saline is coming off a second straight 11-1 finish, and with its 2014 run to the Division 1 Final is a combined 34-4 over the last three seasons. The Yellowjackets might have been the second-best team in Michigan in 2016, falling to eventual Division 1 champion Detroit Cass Tech 43-42 in a Regional Final.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Brighton (7-3) vs. Belleville (7-3) at University of Michigan, Constantine (6-4) at Homer (8-3), FRIDAY Clarkston (9-3) vs. Lapeer (7-3) at University of Michigan, Pewamo-Westphalia (14-0) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (4-5).

Southwest Corridor

Dearborn Divine Child (10-3) at Benton Harbor (10-1), Friday

Its former struggles becoming a distant memory, Benton Harbor has proven to not be a one or even two-year phenomenon. The Tigers once again won’t have an easy go as an independent this fall playing teams from all over the Lower Peninsula and one from Chicago. But they started 10-0 last year before falling by a point in a Division 4 District Final, and expectations are high again despite starting out against a Division 3 semifinalist from a year ago. Divine Child bounced back last fall from a sub-.500 record in 2015 to post its best since 1985. This one will be key for the Falcons as well with their nonleague slate also including playoff regulars East Lansing and Warren DeLaSalle.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Portage Northern (5-5) at Battle Creek Lakeview (6-3), Fennville (3-6) at Schoolcraft (10-1), Marcellus (4-5) at Decatur (4-5), FRIDAY Lawton (8-2) at Watervliet (7-3).

Upper Peninsula

Iron Mountain (8-3) at Ishpeming (3-5), Friday

After Ishpeming’s dominance of the Mid-Peninsula Conference for most of this decade, last year belonged instead to Negaunee and Iron Mountain. The Mountaineers opened 2016 by handing the Hematites their first loss since 2014 and ending Ishpeming’s 27-game regular-season winning streak; Iron Mountain went on to its best overall finish since 2011. But Ishpeming, which hadn’t had a sub-.500 season previously since 2001, surely has been looking forward to starting over against this familiar opponent.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Gladstone (3-6) at Gwinn (6-4), Niagara Northern Elite, Wis. (1-0 this season) at Norway (9-3), SATURDAY Marinette, Wis. (0-1 this season) at Menominee (12-2), Hancock (5-4) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (10-1).

West Michigan

Jackson Lumen Christi (12-2) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (12-2), Friday

The Grand Rapids area in particular is loaded this weekend with matchups of some of its best against contenders from the Detroit and Lansing areas, including a replay of last season’s Division 4 Final between Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Detroit Country Day. But West Catholic/Lumen Christi wins out by a step this time because both are reigning MHSAA champions – West Catholic in Division 5 for the fourth straight year and Lumen Christi in Division 6. The teams have split openers the last two seasons, as West Catholic won last year’s meeting 30-13 – and the Falcons might be favorites off the bat again returning star quarterback Gaetano Vallone while Lumen Christi graduated 2,000-yard rusher Bo Bell.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Farmington Hills Harrison (5-4) at East Grand Rapids (8-3), DeWitt (10-2) at Grand Rapids Christian (9-2), Hudsonville Unity Christian (10-3) at Allendale (8-3), FRIDAY Detroit Country Day (13-1) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (13-1).


Battle Creek St. Philip (5-4) at Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (11-1), Friday

Tri-unity broke into the playoffs last season for the first time and drove all the way to the 8-Player Semifinals before falling for the first and only time in 2016. So this likely won’t resemble at all the Defenders’ only other matchup with St. Philip, a 68-0 11-player loss in 2008. The Tigers, 8-player runners-up in 2015, lost four of their last five last season to just miss the playoffs – proof of the improving strength of the 8-player field. That said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they returned to the elite.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Peck (5-4) at Lawrence (8-2), Rudyard (5-4) at Cedarville (6-4), FRIDAY Rapid River (6-4) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-2), Bellaire (3-6) at Pickford (10-2).

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid. 

PHOTO: A Montague receiver snags a pass over a Whitehall defender last season. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

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

By Pam Shebest
Special for

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.)