Ford Swaps Frustration for Focus

October 24, 2017

By Tim Robinson
Special for Second Half

Midway through the 2016 season, Marcus Ford was frustrated. 

He was on the Pinckney football team, but not playing much.

A big part of that was due to his size — 6-foot-5 and over 400 pounds — but then-defensive coordinator Rod Beaton sensed there was more.

“We feel that we coach very hard,” said Beaton, now Pinckney’s head coach. “We’re very aggressive (on the varsity), and sometimes it’s an adjustment for juniors to understand that when they come out here, there’s expectations.

“There were a couple times where Marcus was questioning … whether football was for him.”

“I didn’t want to be there,” Ford said. “I thought, ‘This is stupid. Why am I here so late?’”

And then came a change.

“It came to a point where he went home and took a day off to re-gather himself,” Beaton said. “Marcus came back and he said to me, ‘Coach, I really want to be a part of things here.’”

And Ford did more than that. 

He grew from a young man who bristled when his coaches pointed out mistakes to one who doesn’t react as if it were a personal attack, from an overweight kid who admits he was on his way to weighing 600 pounds to a big kid who is a key part of Livingston County’s most successful football team as a senior.

He rarely comes out of games, his coach says, and the quiet giant who rarely interacted with his teammates has transformed into a happy, smiling kid who dishes out and takes teasing from them.

It’s a story of transformation that only football could have done for Marcus Ford, who couldn’t play youth football because of his size and whose options for high school athletics seemed limited to football for the same reason. 

“I may sound a little clichéd and corny,” Beaton said, “but I think this is why every single coach in America coaches football, to watch the development of a young man, from freshman to sophomore to junior and to see what football has done for him.”

How did Ford do it?

He turned his mental approach 180 degrees and made drastic changes to his diet and work ethic. 

One clue came in looking at Pinckney’s roster from 2016 compared to 2017. Last year, Ford was listed at 380, which was about 40 pounds less than his actual weight.

This year, he’s listed at 405, which is a dozen pounds more than what he weighs now.

Last year, he played mostly in mop-up roles.

This year, he is a starter on defense, regularly occupying two blockers at a time, which in turn frees linebackers Cauy Hendee and Levi Collins to make tackles. 

“I can play a lot longer,” he said. “I was tired when we were out there, but we don’t believe in the word ‘tired.’ We prefer ‘winded.’ We just need to catch our breath. So I get ‘winded’ a lot less.”

The first thing Marcus decided to change was his diet, and he got his cues by looking in the mirror. 

“I didn’t like the muffin cap that was hanging down,” he said. “I didn’t like my stomach hanging over. ... I thought, ‘I don’t what to have a heart attack at age 25.’ I was doing ‘diets,’ per se, but eventually I thought, ‘This is stupid. Cut out pop and eat better,’ And I did.

“The only thing I would eat that was green was green beans, and they had to be made a certain way,” he said. “Now, I’m more like ‘this is somewhat appetizing. Let me try that.’ I don’t eat candy bars anymore. I don’t eat ice cream when my family does. I drink a lot less milk than I used to, and I drink more water.”

Pinckney offensive coordinator Cody Patton noticed.

“His mom came to me about getting a weight plan, and he stuck with it,” Patton said. “They can only do so much in the weight room. When they leave, there’s not much you can control what they put into their bodies.”

But Ford also changed his mindset about football and being coached.

“His first real commitment was ninth-grade high school football, and it was a big adjustment for him,” Beaton said. “We knew there would be days where he might be a little confrontational, there may be some days where he goes through the motions.”

But after that midseason meeting last year, Ford redoubled his efforts in practice and in the offseason.

The first hint that he was a different player came in June, when Ford earned the team’s first bone helmet sticker of the season for effort in a drill.

“It was our first pursuit drill,” Beaton said. “We go four downs, and those kids have to sprint. There’s no exception. Marcus stepped to his gap, made his reads, flew to the football and didn’t say a word, every single time. He did it four times in a row. It really set the stage. I could tell he was wanting do to things right this year.

“When you see a 6-5, 400-pound kid moving with effort and tenacity, you sit there and go, ‘That young man can help us.’” 

And so he has. 

As a result, Marcus Ford is part of a Pinckney defense that has lifted the Pirates to an 8-1 regular-season record and shared Southeastern Conference White championship. He has transformed from a player who had little stamina to one who can go from opening kickoff to final horn.

“He can play a whole football game,” Beaton said. “He can go through a whole practice. One of the challenges we were talking about in the offseason is he has to put his body and mind in a position to not come off the field.”

That moment came on a warm night early in the season.

“We were in a huddle at Chelsea, and it was late,” Beaton recalled. “He’s drenched in sweat, and I said, ‘Marcus, you need a breather?’ And he said, ‘No, coach. I’m ready.’ That’s pretty cool.”

Asked his ideal weight, Ford said, “I would like to be at 250 if I could,” then laughs. His bone structure is such that at his height, he would be almost gaunt at 250. “I would settle for 340. That’s the dream within a dream goal.”

Next year, he plans to attend college. 

“I want to go into bartending or being a head chef, or get a business degree,” he said. “One other choice is going to a police academy. As long as I can run a mile within 15 minutes, I should be good.”

There’s no reason, now, to think he couldn’t accomplish that. 

He got his first sack against Dexter.

‘I grabbed him and rolled him over on top of me,” Marcus said. “I would have liked to have landed on him, but I got him down in the backfield. It’s good.”

And football now is fun.

“A lot more fun,” he said. 

“Marcus made a concerted effort to our strength and agility program,” Beaton said. “It wasn’t two days at a time, then not be there five or six days. Marcus was there. He would stay after everyone had left and get some extra lifts in or do some extra work to make sure he was putting himself in a (good) position.

“He said, ‘Coach, I want to be your starting nose (tackle).’ The first day of June camp, he ran out to the nose tackle, and we haven’t looked back.”

PHOTO: (Top) A pair of Pinckney blockers try to contain nose tackle Marcus Ford during a practice this season. (Middle) Ford breaks free to get an arm on a ball carrier. (Photos by Tim Robinson.)

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.)