Father-Son Bond Helps Set Foundation for Hudson's Dominating Defense

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

November 23, 2021

HUDSON – Payton Rogers doesn’t remember the first time he went to a Hudson Tigers football game.

That because he was about 6 months old.

“He was in a stroller,” said his father, Hudson head football coach Dan Rogers. “When he says he grew up around Hudson football, he means it literally. He was always on the sidelines with me. He was a ball boy by the time he was 5.”

Payton has a much different role these days. The 17-year-old senior is a starting linebacker, top tackler and emotional leader for Hudson’s powerful defense that will play for the Division 8 championship Friday at Ford Field against Beal City. Hudson is 13-0 and one of nine remaining undefeated 11-player teams in the state.

It’s little surprise that Payton grew up to be a great defensive player. His father had coached the Hudson defense for nearly two decades before becoming the head coach at the start of the 2020 season. The Tigers were coming off a 2-7 season during which several sophomores – including Payton – were pressed into starting roles because the team was so young. 

Those five are still playing and now have starring roles.

“They all had a big part of our Semifinal win,” Coach Rogers said. “That was nice to see. They all started that sophomore season, and there were some rough times. That hard work is paying off.”

Payton was among those starters, although he was the starting nose tackle, despite being somewhat undersized.

“He got in there and got beat up a little bit,” Coach Rogers said. “That was his role. He was quick, and he always battled hard.”

After last season, when Hudson went 4-4, Payton told his dad he wanted to play linebacker this year. He worked the entire offseason on getting bigger, stronger, and faster so he would be ready for his new role. 

The work was more than worth it.

Payton leads the team in tackles with 95 and solo tackles with 38. The 5-foot-6, 150-pounder is tied for the team lead in interceptions and second with six tackles for loss. 

Hudson football“He will watch film with me and pick things out, what works, what he wants to do, what doesn’t work,” Rogers said. “If I don’t agree with something, I’ll tell him, but he’s the coach on the field. He makes our calls and gets kids into the right spots. He’s become really good at watching film and breaking things down.”

Studying – not just watching – game film has been a passion for father and son. Coach Rogers said he took some advice from other coaches he knew who had coached their sons, and he sets some restrictions on watching film with Payton.

“You have to pick a time where you are watching as a father and son and when you are watching as a coach-player,” he said. “We just put it out there. Before we start watching, it’s ‘okay, this is coach-player,’ and we watch. You have to do it that way.”

Payton said the two of them know when to talk football as coach-player and when to be father-son.

“I’d say we mix it up,” he said. “Tuesdays at Hudson has always been defensive film day. That goes way back, so I’ve always watched film with my dad. This year it became a little more important because I needed to know more about the keys and the other team. My dad always taught me little things about football, but this year, with watching film, he’s taught me so much.”

The Hudson defense has been outstanding from the start, posting seven shutouts in 13 games. From Week 4 through the Regional Final, Hudson gave up just two touchdowns total. 

Five Tigers defenders have at least 50 tackles on the season – Cameron Kimble has 85, Austin Marry 65, Ethan Harris 53 and Bronson Marry 53. In the Semifinal game against Ottawa Lake Whiteford on Saturday, the Tigers gave up 22 points over the first 14 minutes, made some adjustments, then shut out the high-scoring Bobcats the rest of the game. They forced three turnovers along the way.

On Whiteford’s final drive, the Bobcats got inside the Hudson 5-yard line with 1.9 seconds to play, but the quarterback came up a yard short on a 4th-and-6 play. Harris and Nick Kopin made the stop, ending the Whiteford scoring threat and turning the ball over to Hudson for the final play of the game.

“Harris and Kopin were part of that group of sophomores,” Rogers said. “They made a great tackle on their quarterback.”

Beal City will bring an offense averaging 35.5 points a game into the championship against Hudson.

“It’s certainly going to be a challenge,” Rogers said. “They are big and physical.”

Hudson made back-to-back Finals appearances in 2009 and 2010. Payton had a front row look for both games, serving as the ball boy for the Tigers.

Hudson football“On 2009 and 2010 I was on the sidelines with my dad,” he said. “It’s such an honor to go back. I haven’t been there since then. I just want to enjoy it with my father and my team. It’s fun to be a part of.”

Payton wasn’t just handed the role of ball boy. He had to learn from older ball boys and move up into the ranks. 

“I wanted to be on the sidelines with my dad,” he said. “I was ball boy all the way up until 2016.”

Hudson has a storied football history, most famous for the 72-game win streak during the 1960s and 1970s that drew national attention. One of the players on the 1975 team was Chris Luma. Luma would go on to coach Hudson, stepping down after the 2019 season. He was the coach who brought Rogers onto the staff. This season, Luma has a seat in the Hudson coaches box, talking in the ear of Rogers and other coaches about what he sees on the field.

It's a continuation of the Hudson football community and family. Roots run deep in Hudson, and the football team is usually top of mind. 

Rogers is part of that family. The 1992 Hudson graduate – yes, he played for the Tigers – will not only have his son Payton on the field, but his younger son, Harper, 8, will be the ball boy for the game. His wife, Lindsey, and daughter Mia, 13, will be in the crowd. 

“Everything is family around Hudson,” Payton said. “Our team has grown up together, and this year there have been so many people at our games, past players and guys we used to look up to. It’s been great seeing them come back for games.”

While a trip to the Finals is nothing new for the Tigers – Friday will be their fifth all-time appearance – it’s always a big deal in Hudson.

“I’m so happy for these kids and this community,” Coach Rogers said. “It’s a special thing to be a Hudson football player and live in Hudson and coach. The players are rewarded, and the whole community really supports the team. I’m just so happy for everyone right now.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Hudson senior Payton Rogers (22) hugs junior Calix Campbell after Saturday’s Semifinal win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford. (Middle) Hudson coach Dan Rogers (right, with assistant Jacob Bovee) provides instruction from the sideline. (Below) The Tigers celebrate their Semifinal win. (Photos by Deloris Clark-Osborne.)

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)