Drive for Detroit: Week 7 Preview

October 6, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Tonight could end with at least a few Michigan communities celebrating the best night in their local high school's football history.

Breckenridge is seeking its first league title since its players' grandparents were newborns. Engadine, Corunna and many more could have momentous evenings as well as league titles stand to be decided all over the state. 

All nine highlighted games of this week's Drive for Detroit preview powered by MI Student Aid could decide league races, whether tonight or in the near future. Check out the MHSAA Score Center for a schedule of this weekend's games and to see scores as they're reported. All games listed below are today unless noted. 

Bay & Thumb

Corunna (6-0) at Lake Fenton (6-0)

This Genesee Area Conference Red finale matches the league’s co-leaders. Corunna’s transformation the last two seasons truly deserves note; the Cavaliers didn’t have a winning season from 2006-12 and then fell back to 2-7 in 2014 after a 6-4 finish the year before. But they’re in position to repeat as Red champs after sharing the title last season with Goodrich. Lake Fenton has been much more of a regular contender but still will be playing for its first league title since sharing the Red with Montrose in 2007.

Others that caught my eye: Alma (5-1) at Carrollton (4-2), Saginaw Swan Valley (4-2) at Freeland (6-0), Davison (6-0) at Lapeer (5-1), Saginaw Heritage (3-3) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (4-2).

Greater Detroit

Rochester Adams (5-1) at Birmingham Groves (6-0)

It’s a little complicated, but the Oakland Activities Association White winner also can be partially determined tonight. Thanks to a one-point loss to Oak Park in Week 4, Adams trails Groves just slightly in the standings with the opportunity to secure a share of the league title with a win tonight in what will be its final league game of the fall. Groves also can clinch a share tonight with a win but still has one more league game to play next week and must win that as well to clinch the title outright – unless Oak Park, already with a league defeat to Groves, also loses one of its final two OAA White games. An Adams win tonight could lead to a three-way title share.

Others that caught my eye: Romeo (4-2) at Warren Mott (6-0), Detroit Western International (4-2) at Detroit Mumford (5-1), Detroit Catholic Central (6-0) at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (4-2), Detroit East English (4-2) at Detroit Martin Luther King (5-1) on Saturday.


Merrill (5-1) at Breckenridge (6-0)

Already celebrating its first playoff berth since 1993 – and after going 0-9 (!) last season – Breckenridge can secure a share of its first league title tonight in 70 years, according to a Midland Daily News report. But Merrill – which like Breckenridge joined the Mid-State Activities Conference this season after leaving the Tri-Valley Conference West – can set up a possibility to share the championship as it enters with only an MSAC loss to Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. Merrill downed Breckenridge 48-6 a year ago after the Huskies took their 2014 meeting.

Others that caught my eye: Fowler (4-2) at Dansville (4-2), Lansing Sexton (4-2) at East Lansing (4-2), Stockbridge (3-3) at Olivet (4-2), DeWitt (5-1) at St. Johns (3-3).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Clare (5-1) at Roscommon (6-0)

These two are tied for first in the Jack Pine Conference with three games to play – meaning that a loss tonight won’t entirely derail either’s hopes. But the winner should be set up well to at least share the title, although Roscommon still must play Harrison (4-2) and Claire finishes with playoff hopefuls Beaverton (4-2) and Houghton Lake (3-3). The Pioneers are used to this scenario – before falling twice last season, they had won 34 straight Jack Pine games and have dominated the league most of the last two decades. Roscommon, meanwhile, has its most wins already since 2006, when it finished 10-2 and won the conference.

Others that caught my eye: Gaylord St. Mary (5-1) at Johannesburg-Lewiston (3-3), Muskegon Catholic Central (6-0) at Manistee (4-2), Charlevoix (5-1) at Onekama (5-1), Saginaw Nouvel (4-2) at Tawas (4-1).

Southeast & Border

Ida (6-0) at Hudson (5-1)

Ida has won all but one of its Lenawee County Athletic Association games over the last two seasons by at least 24 points. The team to come closer, Hillsdale (falling 20-17), is next week’s opponent – but Ida won’t look past rejuvenated Hudson. The Tigers have bounced back from finishing 4-5 last year and still have LCAA title hopes despite falling to Hillsdale 14-6 last week. Hillsdale already has a league loss as well, so an Ida win tonight puts the Bluestreaks in strong position to at least share the championship after winning it outright in 2015.

Others that caught my eye: Petersburg-Summerfield (4-2) at Clinton (4-2), Quincy (5-1) at Concord (5-1), Milan (6-0) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (3-3), Morenci (4-2) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (6-0).

Southwest Corridor

Battle Creek Harper Creek (6-0) at Coldwater (4-2)

Harper Creek is having an all-around great fall; the volleyball team is ranked No. 6 in Class B, the boys cross country team was tied for No. 9 in Lower Peninsula Division 2 entering this week, and the football team has doubled its wins from a season ago with an opportunity tonight to clinch a share of the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference championship against last year’s champion. Coldwater has won two straight over the Beavers and won’t go quietly, but Harper Creek has yet to allow a team to get closer than 10 points.

Others that caught my eye: St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (5-1) at Bridgman (4-2), Schoolcraft (6-0) at Gobles (5-1), Portage Central (5-1) at Portage Northern (4-2), Delton Kellogg (4-2) at Watervliet (4-2).

Upper Peninsula

Ishpeming (3-2) at Negaunee (6-0)

A couple of pretty strong Negaunee teams have had their Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference hopes dashed by MHSAA title-contending Ishpeming teams over the last few years. The Hematites have beaten the Miners in three straight, and the 2013 and 2015 victories decided league titles. But Negaunee enters as the favorite this time with wins over five teams still up for playoff berths, and Ishpeming has a little additional pressure; it must win two of its last three games against Negaunee, St. Ignace and Gwinn to guarantee adding to a 14-season playoff streak.

Others that caught my eye: Kingsford (4-2) at Iron Mountain (5-1), Escanaba (5-1) at Gladstone (3-3), Lake Linden-Hubbell (6-0) at Houghton (3-3), Hancock (4-2) at Gwinn (4-2).

West Michigan

Zeeland East (5-1) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (6-0)

Four teams in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green are at least 5-1 and a fifth is 4-2, making this arguably the strongest league in the state top to bottom this fall. Two of this week’s matchups are highlighted in this space this week, and Unity Christian enters tied with Byron Center for first place but with Hamilton and Zeeland East holding only one league loss. East is a newcomer after playing previously in the O-K Black, but could have the greatest influence on the final finish with Unity on the schedule this week, Byron Center next week and rival Zeeland West in Week 9

Others that caught my eye: Whitehall (4-2) at Ravenna (4-2), Big Rapids (3-3) at Reed City (6-0), Grand Rapids South Christian (3-3) at Wyoming (4-2), Hamilton (5-1) at Zeeland West (4-2).


Cedarville (6-0) at Engadine (6-0)

Engadine is in the midst of a string of successful seasons it hasn’t enjoyed since the mid-1980s, but winning tonight could make this fall the best of the bunch. The Eagles can clinch a share of the Bridge-Alliance League title after returning this fall after a year playing in the Western Eight Conference. Cedarville, of course, is a regular favorite and has only four league losses in five seasons of 8-player football. The Trojans’ closest games this fall have been a pair of 20-point wins, and Engadine hasn’t let anyone get closer than 10.

Others that caught my eye: Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (6-0) at Lawrence (6-0), Webberville (5-1) at Portland St. Patrick (6-0), Rapid River (5-1) at Stephenson (5-1).

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: Saginaw Swan Valley (left) and Zeeland East faced off earlier this season; both will attempt to beat league leaders this weekend. (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.)