Drive for Detroit: Week 3 Preview

September 8, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

If Week 2 of the Michigan high school football season was loaded with matchups anticipated statewide, this week is just about the opposite – these games matter just as much, but it will likely take a few weeks to find out how they will impact the rest of this fall.

A pair of reigning MHSAA champions and a pair of neighbors who share a stadium are among highlighted matchups in this week’s Drive for Detroit preview, powered by MI Student Aid

But many of the other intriguing games feature teams off to quick starts for the first time in a while and still working to prove they’ll be in the mix at the end after showing that potential during the season's first two weeks.

Bay & Thumb

Lake Fenton (2-0) at Flint Beecher (2-0)

Although neither of these teams was among co-champions of the Genesee Area Conference Red last season, they’re annually among teams to beat in that league – and so far that looks to be the case again this fall. Beecher – which downed Lake Fenton 27-26 a year ago – has outscored its first two opponents by a combined 59-0. The Blue Devils’ early stretch has been tougher, but last week’s 18-14 win over 2015 playoff qualifier Olivet makes their start arguably more impressive as well.

Others that caught my eye: Ortonville Brandon (2-0) at Fenton (0-2), Detroit Loyola (1-1) at Marine City (0-2), Harbor Beach (1-1) at Reese (2-0), Croswell-Lexington (2-0) at Richmond (1-1).

Greater Detroit

Northville (2-0) at Walled Lake Western (2-0)

Last week’s 33-30 win over Canton gave Western 15 straight regular-season victories, and quarterback Cody White is one of the most discussed players across the state – he threw for 122 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 119 and two against the Chiefs. But Northville also was perfect during the regular season in 2015 and is coming off two similarly impressive wins over Dearborn and Brighton to kick off this fall.

Others that caught my eye: Southfield Arts & Technology (1-1) at Birmingham Groves (2-0), Dearborn Fordson (2-0) at Belleville (1-1), Detroit East English (1-1) at Detroit Central Collegiate (1-1), Oxford (1-1) at Clarkston (1-1).


Fowlerville (2-0) at Portland (2-0)

Most seasons, Williamston/Lansing Catholic would be the game to see, or one of them, in the Capital Area Activities Conference White. But Fowlerville’s best start since 2009 is providing a spark of anticipation for a program that won a lot during the 1990s and 2000s – and quarterback Nick Semke (166 yards/4 TDs rushing, 201 yards/2 TDs passing) is another reason to be interested. All of that said, Portland is coming off a 40-0 win over annual playoff team Hillsdale and riding its typical tough running attack, led by one of the Lansing area’s best in Logan Lefke.

Others that caught my eye: Williamston (1-1) at Lansing Catholic (2-0), Lake Odessa Lakewood (2-0) at Perry (1-1), Mason (2-0) at St. Johns (0-2), Laingsburg (2-0) at Dansville (1-1).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Traverse City West (2-0) vs. Traverse City Central (2-0) at Thirlby Field

These rivals will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the split of old Traverse City High with a Patriot Game (see story on Second Half) and one of the most anticipated matchups in this rivalry since it began in 1997. West is off to its first 2-0 start since 2004, having stunned Midland on opening night by 28 points and come back with another 28-point win over Grand Haven. Central, which has beaten West in two straight, didn’t lose a regular-season game last season and outscored Bay City Western and Marquette by a combined 86-20 over the first two weeks.

Others that caught my eye: Cheboygan (1-1) at Boyne City (0-2), Rogers City (1-1) at Lincoln Alcona (1-1), Oscoda (1-1) at Whittemore-Prescott (2-0, East Jordan (2-0) at Central Lake (1-1).

Southeast & Border

Adrian Madison (2-0) at Clinton (2-0)

Reigning Division 6 runner-up Clinton is a powerhouse, with a combined record of 45-4 over the last four seasons and two comfortable wins this fall to extend its regular-season winning streak to 38. But Madison has earned the opportunity to hope; the Trojans gave Clinton arguably the latter’s best regular-season game last season before falling 37-21 and are off to their first 2-0 start since 2013. Madison hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009, and not finished above .500 since that fall, but starts the Tri-County Conference schedule having reversed a one-point 2015 loss to Onsted with a one-point win last week.

Others that caught my eye: Brooklyn Columbia Central (2-0) at Hudson (2-0), Hillsdale (1-1) at Dundee (1-1), East Lansing (1-1) at Jackson (1-1), Grosse Ile (2-0) at New Boston Huron (2-0).

Southwest Corridor

Stevensville Lakeshore (2-0) at Portage Central (2-0)

The narrative here hasn’t changed much over the last few seasons; one of these two has won the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West championship every year over the last four. Portage Central beat Lakeshore 7-6 last season and has won 16 of its last 17 regular-season games since losing to the Lancers by three in 2014. Both have romped to start this fall, Central outscoring its opponents 77-8 and Lakeshore 82-34.

Others that caught my eye: Jackson Lumen Christi (1-1) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (2-0), Portage Northern (1-1) at St. Joseph (2-0), Dowagiac (1-1) at Three Rivers (1-1), Kalamazoo Central (0-2) at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix (0-2).

Upper Peninsula

Bark River-Harris (2-0) at Newberry (2-0)

Bark River-Harris has enjoyed a rejuvenation going a combined 16-6 over the last two seasons and sharing the Mid-Eastern Conference title in 2015. Is Newberry next to make a jump? The Indians have been building with two playoffs appearances after a series of sub.-500 seasons and opened this fall with 30+ point wins over Harbor Springs and Munising. Either way, this should be entertaining – the teams scored 90 points between them as the Broncos won 56-34 last year.

Others that caught my eye: Iron Mountain (2-0) at Iron River West Iron County (1-1), Gaylord (1-1) at Escanaba (2-0), Johannesburg-Lewiston (1-1) at St. Ignace (1-1), Gladstone (1-1) at Negaunee (2-0).

West Michigan

Zeeland West (2-0) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (2-0)

It’s a rare treat when two reigning MHSAA champions match up, and there will be plenty of star power when reigning Division 4 winner Zeeland West faces the returning Division 5 champion Falcons. It’s been new coach, same story for West Catholic, which opened by avenging last year’s loss to Jackson Lumen Christi and has won 13 straight. Zeeland West has won 40 of its last 41 games and started this fall beating a pair that went a combined 16-5 a year ago.

Others that caught my eye: Hudsonville (2-0) at East Kentwood (2-0), Lowell (2-0) at East Grand Rapids (1-1), Grand Rapids Christian (2-0) at Wyoming (2-0), Muskegon Mona Shores (1-1) at Rockford (0-2).


Waldron (2-0) at Portland St. Patrick (2-0) on Saturday

The Spartans posted their best finish, 8-2, as an 8-player team last fall after breaking a four-game losing streak to the Shamrocks with a 32-24 victory in Week 3. The offense that put up 46 points per game in 2015 is still rolling and scored 90 over the last two weeks. But St. Patrick has put up a combined 104 points in its first two games and no doubt has been circling this one as it looks to return to MHSAA title contention.

Others that caught my eye: Rapid River (1-1) at Webberville (2-0), Engadine (2-0) at Pickford (2-0).

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 Hudsonville receiver pulls in a catch and begins to break away from Holt defenders during the Eagles’ Week 2 victory. (Photo by Jeremy Sampson.)

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.)