Drive for Detroit: Week 7 Preview

October 5, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Week 7 has a couple of contrasting meanings in the grand scheme of Michigan high school football.

On one hand, we're drawing to a close of the regular season. On the other, we're just reaching the midpoint of the 14-week drive that carries us through the MHSAA Finals.

So here's where we sit. Fifty-one 11-player teams have qualified for the 11-player Playoffs. Another 94 are on the verge, needing one more victory. League titles will be decided all over Michigan again this weekend, and pairs of the best in all of the Upper Peninsula face off in both 11 and 8-player games.

Keep an eye on the statewide scene by following the MHSAA Score Center for scores as they come in tonight and Saturday, and check out for six live broadcasts – click here for the schedule. Drive for Detroit is powered by MI Student Aid.

Sidenote: With a win tonight against Oak Park (5-1) by his Hawks (4-2), Farmington Hills Harrison coach John Herrington would tie retired Birmingham Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa for the MHSAA record with 430 wins. Stay tuned.

Bay & Thumb

Frankenmuth (6-0) at Millington (6-0), Friday

This is the game, again, in the Tri-Valley Conference East as Frankenmuth has won 22 straight in the league dating to a loss to Millington in 2014. That season was the first of what is now four straight that these two have entered their annual meeting both undefeated. Coincidentally this time, both have scored 246 points this year, with Millington giving up 112 and Frankenmuth 102. And it gets closer still: In a projected Division 5 playoff field, Frankenmuth is third in playoff point average, with Millington next trailing by a mere 1.600. It’s fair to say a league title and possible home District Final are on the line.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Flushing (5-1) at Fenton (6-0), Lapeer (5-1) at Davison (5-1), Ortonville Brandon (4-2) at Linden (5-1), Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (5-1) at Unionville-Sebewaing (4-2).

Greater Detroit

Detroit Central (5-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (5-1), Friday

Detroit Central is much smaller than even a decade ago when it had more than 1,000 students; the Trail Blazers played in the Division 6 playoffs last season. But they’ve got a chance to take a share of the Detroit Public School League Black division title from King, which has three times as many students these days and is the two-time reigning Division 2 champion. Both have talented offenses, but defense may reign; King has given up six points total over four league games, Central just 25. King is coming off a 27-6 win over previously-undefeated Denby, which handed Central its lone loss, 12-6, in Week 3.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (6-0) at Dearborn Divine Child (5-1), Warren Fitzgerald (5-1) at Madison Heights Madison (6-0), Clarkston Everest Collegiate (5-1) at Waterford Our Lady (4-1), Clarkston (5-1) at Rochester Adams (5-1).


DeWitt (5-1) at Haslett (5-1), Friday

For the first time in a decade, one of this region’s most heated rivalries is relevant again, as the Capital Area Activities Conference Red title is on the line. That’s hardly all. Six of these teams’ first 11 meetings this century were decided by seven or fewer points; only two of the last 10 have been that close, and DeWitt has won 16 straight. But Haslett is 5-1 for the first time since 2007 and already has one more win than all of last season, and DeWitt moves to the CAAC Blue next fall – making this the most significant regular-season meeting these two might enjoy against each other for a while.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Wyoming Godwin Heights (5-1) at Belding (5-1), Lansing Sexton (4-2) at Holt (3-3), Lake Fenton (5-1) at Corunna (3-3), Carrollton (5-1) at Alma (6-0).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Johannesburg-Lewiston (4-2) at Gaylord St. Mary (6-0), Friday

Despite a couple of nonleague losses, Johannesburg-Lewiston has bounced back nicely from last season’s 4-5 finish, which was its first below .500 since 2007. Although Harbor Springs could figure into the mix – both the Cardinals and St. Mary face the Rams over the final two weeks of the regular season – tonight’s matchup could go a long way in deciding the Northern Michigan Football Conference Legacy champ. St. Mary is enjoying that opportunity after starting 2016 5-0 and finishing it 1-4. But that one win was over Johannesburg-Lewiston and by 28 points, perhaps a bit of a confidence builder with these two now the main contenders.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Elk Rapids (5-1) at Grayling (4-2), Beal City (4-2) at McBain (5-1), Hillman (3-3) at Oscoda (4-2), Cheboygan (3-3) at Traverse City St. Francis (6-0).

Southeast & Border

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

The Tigers are looking to run through the Lenawee County Athletic Association schedule undefeated for the fifth time in nine seasons, but 2015 league champion Ida is standing in the way after both teams also shared last season’s title – Ida fell to Hudson by a point (and Hudson fell to Hillsdale). After a pair of impressive nonleague wins, the Tigers have won every LCAA game so far by at least 22. The Bluestreaks took an eight-point loss to Brooklyn Columbia Central two weeks ago and surely won’t mind sharing the title again as a result of handing Hudson its first defeat tonight.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Ann Arbor Pioneer (3-3) at Saline (5-1), Athens (5-1) at Pittsford (5-1), Parma Western (4-2) at Jackson Lumen Christi (5-1), Grass Lake (4-2) at Addison (5-1).

Southwest Corridor

Edwardsburg (6-0) at Three Rivers (5-1), Friday

Edwardsburg’s 34-game Wolverine B Conference winning streak just keeps growing, but a few challengers are lined up. Three Rivers fell to the Eddies 38-0 just a year ago, but already has avenged its other 2016 league loss this season, flipping a 29-point defeat to Plainwell into a 20-point win on opening night. Granted, the Wildcats followed that with a 14-point loss to Dowagiac, which fell to the Eddies by eight two weeks later in giving them their first significant league challenge in two years. But if nothing else, this should be closer than a year ago – and Vicksburg (5-1) will be waiting for Edwardsburg in Week 8.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Coldwater (4-2) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (6-0), Schoolcraft (5-1) at Coloma (4-2), Cassopolis (6-0) at Hartford (5-1), Decatur (4-2) at Mendon (6-0).

Upper Peninsula

Gladstone (6-0) at Escanaba (5-1), Friday

It’s an interesting coincidence that the season these two are considered arguably the best teams in the Upper Peninsula is also the first time they aren’t in the same league since the mid-1980s, but that hardly lessens the significance of this matchup. The Eskymos are laying claim to the top spot after doubling up annual top U.P. team Menominee last week. Gladstone is staring down its best season since at least 2008 – and it can only get better with this opportunity against its old Great Northern Conference foe.

Others that caught my eye: FIRDAY Newberry (3-2) at Norway (6-0), Calumet (3-3) at L'Anse (4-2), Charlevoix (2-4) at Munising (3-3), Bark River-Harris (3-3) at Bessemer Gogebic (2-4).

West Michigan

Rockford (4-2) at Holland West Ottawa (5-1)

Pick a league, any league, on the west side and it seems like there is a game that will determine a league champion either this week or eventually. These are the best from the elite Ottawa-Kent Conference Red; Rockford is 3-0 in the league and West Ottawa is 4-0. The Panthers especially have to be thinking historically; they haven’t beaten the Rams since 2002. But West Ottawa also has more wins this fall than the last two seasons combined and has yet to give up more than seven points in a league game – an impressive enough feat to make this look like a much closer matchup than last year’s 51-14 Rockford win.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Lowell (4-2) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (6-0), Comstock Park (4-2) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (6-0), Wyoming Kelloggsville (6-0) at Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (5-1), Muskegon Oakridge (5-1) at Montague (6-0).


Stephenson (6-0) at Rapid River (6-0)

Similar to Powers North Central and Crystal Falls Forest Park in 2016, these two have an argument that they are the best in all of 8-player football even as relative neighbors. But only one (most likely) will finish as champion of the Western Eight Conference – although at this point, both could have a chance to finish as MHSAA champions as they project to play in different playoff divisions. Stephenson has two straight wins over the Rockets and hasn’t allowed an opponent closer than 24 points this season. Rapid River certainly has more experience in close games – with three wins by eight or fewer – and that could pay off.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Engadine (4-2) at Cedarville (6-0), Marion (5-1) at Manistee Catholic Central (2-3), Kingston (4-2) at Morrice (6-0), Pickford (6-0) at Onaway (3-3).

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: DeWitt, here against Grand Ledge in Week 2, will try to win its 17th straight over rival Haslett. (Click for 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.)