Drive for Detroit: Week 1 Preview

August 22, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The lights are ready to shine again at high school football stadiums all over Michigan.

We kick off the 2018 season this weekend with anticipation – not to mention multiple matchups of reigning MHSAA Finals champions and a third game between teams that closed last fall at Ford Field.

Below is the first of 14 “Drive for Detroit” weekly previews aimed at providing a glance at the most intriguing games in every corner of the state through November’s 11-Player Finals at Ford Field. No matter where you’re located in Michigan, we’ll provide at least a handful of local games sure to be worth a trip.  

Varsity games this week and next will be played Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Check out the MHSAA Score Center for the full schedule and results as games are completed.

Be sure to check out as well the list of 15 games this weekend being broadcast on, including all three from the Vehicle City Gridiron Classic at Flint’s Atwood Stadium, four games from the Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State University, two games from the Battle at the Big House at University of Michigan and two games from the GRidiron Classic at Grand Valley State University.

“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

Linden (9-3) at Flushing (9-3), Thursday

All but one team in the nine-team Flint Metro League opens with a league game, and Linden’s 27-22 win over Flushing on opening night 2017 meant the eventual difference between second and third place behind champion Fenton. With all three anticipating being in the hunt again, tonight’s rematch could have similar significance. The Eagles have won the last three games in this series.

Other that caught my eye: THURSDAY Grand Blanc (7-3) at Midland Dow (7-3), Hudson (9-2) at Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (10-2) FRIDAY Muskegon Catholic Central (8-2) at Algonac (10-2), Ubly (7-3) at Unionville-Sebewaing (5-5).

Greater Detroit

River Rouge (10-3) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (9-3), Saturday at Wayne State University

This 3 p.m. Saturday kickoff is the premier game of this season’s Prep Kickoff Classic, with both coming off MHSAA Semifinal runs – Cass Tech in Division 1 and River Rouge in Division 4. Both are expected to again contend for spots playing during the final weekend of this season at Ford Field – with a number of their players going on to play Saturdays at the college level as well.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Oak Park (9-3) vs. Utica Eisenhower (11-1) at Wayne State, West Bloomfield (11-3) at Birmingham Groves (7-3) FRIDAY Detroit Mumford (7-4) at Detroit Country Day (4-5), Macomb Dakota (7-4) at Orchard Lake St. Mary's (2-6).


Pewamo-Westphalia (13-1) vs. Ithaca (13-1), Friday at Alma College

Both played at Ford Field to close the 2017 season, Pewamo-Westphalia as the Division 7 champion and Ithaca as Division 6 runner-up. Many of the standouts who led the Pirates to back-to-back MHSAA titles are gone as the next group looks to build on a 40-2 run over the last three seasons. The Yellowjackets also are debuting some important new faces – and guarding a 73-game regular-season winning streak. 

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Portland (10-2) at Ovid-Elsie (7-3), Beaverton (8-2) at Breckenridge (10-2), Belleville (10-1) at Brighton (4-5), Grand Rapids Christian (7-3) at DeWitt (10-2).

Northern Lower Peninsula

New Lothrop (10-1) at Maple City Glen Lake (7-3), Thursday

A pair of league champions match up with some historical significance on the line. New Lothrop has only one league loss over the last eight seasons. The Lakers haven’t lost a season opener since 2003. The Hornets’ new league schedule also is bookended with another tough test this fall – Traverse City St. Francis in Week 9.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Midland (8-2) at Traverse City West (9-2), Oscoda (6-4) at Houghton Lake (7-4) FRIDAY Newberry (6-3) at Frankfort (8-3), Johannesburg-Lewiston (6-4) at Manton (4-5).

Southeast & Border

Grand Rapids West Catholic (12-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (12-1), Friday

As West Catholic has won the last five Division 5 championships, and Lumen Christi has won the last two in Division 6, this will be the second straight season they’ll open meeting as reigning title winners. Last season’s chapter went Lumen Christi’s way, 27-24, and the Titans have won two of three in their recent series.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (10-2) at Saline (7-2), FRIDAY Clarkston (12-2) vs. Grandville (6-4) at University of Michigan, Homer (6-4) at Michigan Center (9-2), Morenci (6-4) at Pittsford (9-2).

Southwest Corridor

Battle Creek Harper Creek (12-1) at Benton Harbor (5-5), Friday

Harper Creek’s only defeat of 2017 came in a Division 3 Semifinal against Muskegon, the division’s eventual champion. The Beavers start over again with an intriguing matchup. Benton Harbor has a new coach and is hoping to keep the same momentum that led to the Tigers’ first three playoff appearances ever over the last three seasons.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Three Rivers (8-3) at Plainwell (8-3), Berrien Springs (6-4) at Kalamazoo United (8-3), Williamston (7-5) at Battle Creek Pennfield (4-5) FRIDAY Freeland (6-4) at Marshall (4-5).

Upper Peninsula

Norway (9-2) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (4-5), Saturday

The expanded Western Peninsula Athletic Conference gets going right away, with these former Mid-Eastern Conference rivals the most notable opener. Lake Linden-Hubbell suffered its first regular-season loss in three years last season but still made the playoffs at 4-4. Norway is coming off its second straight nine-win season and shared the final M-EC title.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Traverse City St. Francis (11-2) at Marquette (4-5), Hancock (7-3) at L'Anse (4-5), Munising (4-5) at Iron River West Iron County (11-2) SATURDAY Menominee (8-4) at Marinette, Wis. (3-6).

West Michigan

Warren DeLaSalle (12-2) at Muskegon (14-0), Friday

From an area always loaded with top opening-weekend matchups, it’s hard to argue with the reigning Division 3 champion hosting the reigning Division 2 winner. Both are replacing graduated star quarterbacks, but also return talented casts – the Pilots should be strong defensively, while Muskegon remains huge up front and likely to pile up rush yards again this fall.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Stevensville Lakeshore (9-2) at Holland West Ottawa (10-2) FRIDAY Newaygo (7-3) at Kent City (10-1), Montague (11-1) at Reed City (11-2) SATURDAY Zeeland East (9-1) vs. East Grand Rapids (9-1) at Grand Valley State


Stephenson (9-3) at Cedarville (8-3), Friday

Did you know: Cedarville has 13 straight winning seasons and 14 straight playoff appearances (finishing 5-5 in 2004). The Trojans will begin their march to extend those streaks against a Stephenson team coming off its winningest season since 2003 and having ended Cedarville’s 2017 in a Division 1 Regional Final.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Deckerville (11-2) at Flint International Academy (8-3), *Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (6-4) at Hillman (6-5), Pickford (11-1) at Mesick (5-5), Marion (7-3) at Onekama (9-2) (*both played 11-player last season).

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: Grand Ledge’s sideline takes in a Friday night view during last season's game against rival DeWitt. (Click to see more from

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.)