Football Families Carry on Tradition

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

November 12, 2015

WATERFORD – Football always has been a family affair at Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes.

It started with longtime coach Mike Boyd and continues on with Josh Sawicki, who’s in his third season as Lakes’ football coach.

Boyd retired after 2012 with 361 career victories, third most in MHSAA history. His sons, Mike, Jr., and Andy, played for him and contributed significantly to the Lakers’ success.

Mike Boyd played for his cousin, Leo “Smokey” Boyd, at Saginaw St. Peter & Paul.

And Boyd coached a number of siblings in his 48 seasons at Lakes. Josh and Jake Sawicki were two. Josh played linebacker and guard for four seasons, three times selected to all-state teams. Jake was a running back.

Sawicki took over for Boyd and has continued the winning tradition. Lakes was 8-3 his first season, 9-2 last season, and the Lakers are 11-0 heading into Saturday’s 1 p.m. Division 8 Regional Final against Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (10-1).

Those family ties continue as well. Quarterback Clay Senerius and receiver Devin Senerius are fraternal twins.

Clay is a three-year starter and is one of the top quarterbacks in Division 8. He’s 6-foot-3, 185 pounds and has been offered a scholarship by Avila University, an NAIA school in Kansas City (Mo.). Kalamazoo College, Hope College and St. Francis, located in Fort Wayne (Ind.) have also shown interest.

Senerius threw a school-record seven touchdown passes in a game as a junior. During his career he’s thrown at least five touchdown passes in a game five times. Through 10 games this season, he’s completed 107 of 171 attempts for 2,226 yards, 26 touchdowns and five interceptions.

And if Lakes wasn’t such a well-balanced team, those statistics would be even more impressive.

“He’s a drop-back passer,” Sawicki said. “He has some athletic ability. What I like about him is he’s coachable. He throws a pretty pass. When he’s locked in, it’s like a video game.

“We throw it, but we don’t throw it that much.”

To the point, Lakes – Senerius, that is – threw for 2,900 yards last season and rushed for 1,200. This year the Lakers have gained half of their yards on the ground.

This team is primed to make a long playoff run. It’s dominated by seniors, and for a small school, the linemen are big. The offensive linemen average 235 pounds, the defensive linemen 260.

The best on offense is left guard Liam Sutton (6-0, 280), one of four seniors on the line. Sawicki will often run plays to Sutton’s side or use him as a pulling guard.

At nose guard is senior Anthony Clark (6-1, 310). Clark started playing football last season and is still developing. A state champion powerlifter, Clark is used just on defense.

Sawicki said a family member discouraged Clark from playing football.

“It took a while for his mom to allow him to play,” Sawicki said. “She was afraid he was going to get hurt. I assured her that Clark wasn’t going to be the one getting hurt.”

But what makes Lakes a team to be reckoned with is its offense, led by the Senerius twins and their other playmakers like Ryan Kostich, a 6-1, 215-pound linebacker and slot receiver, and running back-receiver Chris Cartier. Devin Senerius has 12 touchdown receptions and Cartier is averaging 13 yards every time he touches the ball, rushing and receiving.

“We have some really good receivers,” Clay Senerius said. “The last few weeks we’ve run the ball well, too. The offensive line is excelling.

“It’s great playing with my brother. I know typically what he’s going to do. I know where he’s going to be."

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes football coach Josh Sawicki fist-bumps his players during a Prep Bowl appearance at Ford Field. (Middle) Receiver Ryan Kostich (81) races through an opening during a 36-10 win over Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood. (Photos by Paula Imboden.)

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

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

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.)