Drive for Detroit: Week 4 Preview

September 15, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Predicting anything after three weeks of a high school football season is a fruitless endeavor, as so much can change over the next six weeks of play.

But no fewer than 16 leagues across Michigan could eventually see this fall’s championship races affected significantly by what plays out on fields over the next 48 hours.

This week’s “Drive for Detroit” preview – powered by MI Student Aid – highlights a handful of key matchups and mentions many more below; we’ll discuss all of the ramifications that emerge in Monday’s weekend in review.

(Games below are Friday; for the full weekend schedule including Thursday and Saturday games, visit the MHSAA Score Center.)

Bay & Thumb

Alma (3-0) at Freeland (3-0)

Freeland is 7-1 against Alma over the teams’ last eight meetings and off to another fast start after making Division 5 Regional Finals and losing only one regular-season game over the last two seasons. But Alma beat Saginaw Swan Valley last week for the first time since 2011 to earn a 3-0 start for the first time since 2012 – the same season the Panthers got that most recent win against tonight’s Tri-Valley Conference Central opponent.  

Others that caught my eye: Roscommon (3-0) at Beaverton (2-1), Almont (2-1) at Croswell-Lexington (2-1), Linden (2-1) at Flushing (2-1), Saginaw Nouvel (2-1) at Bay City John Glenn (2-1).

Greater Detroit

West Bloomfield (2-1) at Farmington Hills Harrison (2-1)

These Oakland County neighbors re-stoked their rivalry last season for the first time since 2006, with West Bloomfield claiming a 20-14 Week 9 win. The Lakers are following the strong arm of quarterback Bryce Veasley, who has thrown for 543 yards and five touchdowns over his team’s last two games. But he’s taking on a defense this week that has given up more than 20 points only three times – twice to East Kentwood and the third in a Division 2 Semifinal – over its last 17 games.  

Others that caught my eye: Detroit East English (2-1) at Detroit Denby (3-0), St. Clair Shores South Lake (3-0) at Warren Fitzgerald (3-0), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (2-1) at Utica Eisenhower (3-0), Birmingham Brother Rice (2-1) at Warren DeLaSalle (2-1).


Lansing Catholic (3-0) at Portland (3-0)

This Capital Area Activities Conference White rivalry game is always a matchup of differing styles, and the result has been an even split of their last eight meetings. The Cougars’ wide open attack is led this year by dual-threat quarterback Michael Lynn III, with Portland’s physical running game paced by Logan Lefke among a collection of backs. Lynn threw for 161 yards and ran for 80 and two touchdowns in last week’s win over Everett, but the Raiders didn’t give up a point over the last two weeks to Hillsdale and Fowlerville – and are able to control the clock by grinding out yards on the ground.

Others that caught my eye: DeWitt (2-1) at Mason (3-0), Lake City (2-1) at Beal City (1-2), Flint Hamady (2-1) at New Lothrop (3-0), Bath (2-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (3-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Portage Central (3-0) at Traverse City Central (3-0)

Some potential league title-deciding games from this region are mentioned below, but it’s tough not to highlight a matchup of undefeated powers who went a combined 17-3 a year ago. Traverse City Central is coming off an emotional 10-8 win over rival West last week and is giving up a meager 174 yards of offense per game. That sounds a lot like Portage Central, which downed rival Stevensville Lakeshore 37-0 in Week 3 and has given up eight points this season.

Others that caught my eye: Leroy Pine River (2-1) at McBain (3-0), St. Ignace (2-1) at East Jordan (3-0), AuGres-Sims (3-0) at Lincoln Alcona (2-1), Maple City Glen Lake (2-1) at Onekama (3-0).

Southeast & Border

Temperance Bedford (3-0) at Saline (3-0)

The difference in Bedford this season can be measured in part by its results against the same early opponents over the last two years; the Mules have outscored Toledo St. Francis de Sales, Fenton and Ann Arbor Pioneer by a combined 117-70 this fall after those three outscored Bedford by a combined 109-76 in kicking the Mules off to an 0-3 start a year ago. Next up is Saline, which beat Bedford 43-0 in 2015 and just got past winless Ann Arbor Skyline 24-21 last week – but also is 26-2 without a regular-season loss since falling on opening night in 2014.

Others that caught my eye: Ida (3-0) at Brooklyn Columbia Central (2-1), Hudson (3-0) at Dundee (2-1), Manchester (2-1) at Grass Lake (3-0), Sand Creek (3-0) at Morenci (2-1).

Southwest Corridor

Paw Paw (2-1) at Edwardsburg (3-0)

The Eddies are absolutely rolling, again, with three wins by a combined 145-14 score to take the lone lead in the Wolverine Conference. But Paw Paw has come closer than most over the last few seasons, and after Vicksburg in Week 3 of 2014 was the next most-recent team, in Week 9 of 2012, to hand Edwardsburg a regular-season defeat. The Redskins did drop a 14-6 heartbreaker to Sturgis last week, but scored first and outgained the Trojans before a late touchdown led to the final result.

Others that caught my eye: Niles (3-0) at Portage Northern (1-2), St. Joseph (3-0) at Stevensville Lakeshore (2-1), Berrien Springs (1-1) at Cassopolis (3-0), Sturgis (2-1) at Three Rivers (2-1).

Upper Peninsula

Negaunee (3-0) at Iron Mountain (3-0)

This may decide, and at the least will play a major role, in determining the Mid-Peninsula Conference title winner. Iron Mountain is back in the mix thanks to a Week 1 win over three-time reigning champion Ishpeming and has to be confident again having split the last six meetings with the powerful Miners. Negaunee has finished league runner-up two of the last three seasons and will bring a bullish attack that’s run for nearly 900 yards already this season; Neal Violetta had 475 yards and five touchdowns on the ground and Shane Ring has run for 228 yards and five scores.

Others that caught my eye: Newberry (3-0) at Felch North Dickinson (2-1), Calumet (2-1) at Houghton (3-0), Escanaba (3-0) at Marquette (1-2), Ishpeming (1-1) at Ishpeming Westwood (1-2).

West Michigan

Grandville (3-0) at Hudsonville (3-0)

Not only is Grandville off to its best on-field start since 2001 (the Bulldogs opened 2012 3-0 but received a forfeit win), but they’ve dominated giving up only 22 points total and scoring at least 44 in all three of their first games. The numbers don’t flash as much for Hudsonville because of the quality opponents the Eagles have beaten, including handing the only losses so far to 2015 playoff teams Grand Ledge and East Kentwood. The winner tonight will earn an enviable, although not entirely secure position atop the competitive Ottawa-Kent Conference Red.  

Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids South Christian (2-1) at Grand Rapids Christian (3-0), Byron Center (3-0) at Muskegon (2-1), Ludington (3-0) at Muskegon Catholic Central (3-0), Rockford (1-2) at Caledonia (1-2).


Peck (3-0) at Deckerville (3-0)

This is the top 8-player rivalry of a strong 8-player thumb area, and Peck no doubt has been aching to get another shot at the Eagles after falling to them 50-6 in Week 8 and then 30-6 in the first round of last season’s playoffs. Deckerville is off to another dominating start, outscoring its first three opponents by a combined 128-20 after reaching MHSAA Semifinals the last two years.

Others that caught my eye: Onaway (2-1) at Cedarville (3-0), Rudyard (2-1) at Posen (2-1).

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: Alma ran past Birch Run in Week 1 and hopes to move to 4-0 this weekend against Freeland. (Click to see more from

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.)