Football Helped Bond Father & Son, But Fermans Will Meet As Rivals 1 More Time

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

September 14, 2022

For about 2½ hours Friday night, Jeremy and Bryce Ferman will be opponents.

Bay & ThumbDuring that time, it will be about North Branch and Almont battling to remain unbeaten on the football field. About getting another win in the Blue Water Area Conference.

It will be a football game they try to treat like any other football game.

But immediately before and immediately after, their dynamic will be a much more familiar one, and one that was strengthened by the sport: father and son.

“I love him more than anything,” said North Branch coach Jeremy Ferman. “Just to see him over there, that part of it right there is special. Just to see how he’s grown up and the person that he is – the young man that he is. But yeah, once kickoff goes, it’s game on. We’re both competitive people. We probably hate losing more than we enjoy winning.”

Bryce Ferman is a senior running back and linebacker at Almont. He’s also a captain.

He grew up on the Almont sidelines, as his dad turned the Raiders into a perennial power. From 2004-15, Jeremy Ferman led Almont to the playoffs eight times, including trips to the Semifinals in 2011 and 2014. The Raiders won five BWAC titles, three District titles and two Regional titles during his time there.

And that success was made more special by the fact Bryce was right there for all of it.

“There’s a picture of him wearing an old headset, and it wasn’t working, but he had it on,” Jeremy Ferman said. “Some reporter took a picture of him and said, ‘Coach Little Ferman making the calls.’ It’s definitely been in his blood.”

As the Fermans were strengthening their father-son bond through football, Bryce also was soaking in lessons of how to be successful on and off the field.

On it, all he knows is winning. Almont has been to the playoffs every year since 2010, including a run to the Division 5 Final in 2019, Bryce’s freshman year.

As a player, he’s won a pair of postseason games – one during his sophomore year when he was called up late in the season, and one as a junior. This year, the Raiders are off to a 3-0 start.

“I learned how a good, sound football team should run,” he said. “I mean, that’s what my whole life has been. I’ve never been around a poorly run or structured team. It’s always just been that every year the playoffs were expected, and that’s how it still is.”

Jeremy Ferman, then the coach at Almont, accompanies Bryce across the field about a decade ago.The greater lesson learned on those sidelines, though, was how to be a leader. It’s something he focused on as he worked to be part of Almont’s leadership team heading into his junior year.

“We had to go through interviews, write letters, all the stuff that really prepares you for jobs and everything,” Bryce said. “What I wrote my letter on is how I saw all these leaders growing up. That’s all I know. That’s all I know how to be.”

Watching his son make the most of those lessons has been a point of pride for Jeremy Ferman.

“To watch him mature, to watch his leadership – as a dad, it’s pretty (darn) special,” he said.

Following his time with Almont, Jeremy Ferman spent a year apiece with Durand and Flint Kearsley before taking over the North Branch program in 2017. Over his first five seasons, Ferman has taken the Broncos to the playoffs four times, including a run to the Regional Final in 2020. Prior to his arrival, the program had three playoff appearances all-time.

“Every year, I expect him to win – I mean, that’s all he does,” Bryce Ferman said. “That’s all he does.”

The benefit of the two now competing in the same conference is that they get to compare notes on other teams. And having grown up around football, Bryce has become quite a student of the game. The two break down film together regularly, and even when their teams or opponents aren’t involved, their viewing experience involves analyzing the action on the field. Jeremy Ferman remarked that he would welcome Bryce on his coaching staff, whenever he’s done playing.

So while this week there will be no talk of strategy, there is normally plenty of it.

“We both played Imlay City already, I played them the week before he did, and he picked my brain a little bit and we watched film together,” Jeremy Ferman said. “I help him out with personnel, and vice versa. He’s helped me out. We talked about Hamtramck (Almont’s Week 2 opponent, which North Branch plays in Week 5), a little bit. … He wants me to be successful, and I want him to be successful, as well.”

The common opponents also give Jeremy Ferman a chance to see his son on film as he’s breaking down other teams.

“I always have my dad hat on, but my coaching hat kind of gets bigger sometimes,” Jeremy Ferman said. “I have a job to do there. But yeah, you’re watching film and he’s playing against them, and I’m peeking. I’m seeing what he’s doing and then I’ll say, ‘Oh crap, that’s right. I’m Dad, but I’m the head coach right now.’”

Friday night’s game won’t be the first time the two have squared off. A year ago, North Branch defeated Almont 20-14 in a hard-fought game.

That doesn’t make this upcoming matchup any easier, of course, but the Fermans are approaching it in the same way.

“I want him to have the best game of his career Friday night, but I want NB to win the game,” Jeremy Ferman said. “That’s the best of both worlds in this situation. … He’s going to run his (tail) off this Friday night, and he’s going to block, and he’s going to be the leader because that’s what is expected of him.”

Added Bryce: “It doesn’t matter who I’m going up against. When we’re out on the field, between the lines, we’re playing football. But from before and after the game, (this week) is a different story. And that’s with a lot of the kids up there, too. I mean, I know a lot of them. But it doesn’t matter when we’re between the lines and we’re playing.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) North Branch coach Jeremy Ferman and Almont junior Bryce Ferman hug after last year’s matchup between their teams. (Middle) Jeremy Ferman, then the coach at Almont, accompanies Bryce across the field about a decade ago. (Photos courtesy of the Ferman family.)

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.)