Fugate Carries CC On 1 More Trophy Run

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

November 24, 2017

DETROIT – As classmates and fans screamed his name from the Ford Field stands Friday night, Nolan Fugate put the focus on his teammates.

“I cannot thank my offensive line and my outside receivers enough,” the Grand Rapids Catholic Central senior running back said. “Without them none of this would be possible, and I just can’t thank them enough. They’re the best offensive line in the state.”

That line paved the way for Fugate, who gained 306 yards on the ground and tied an MHSAA Finals record with five total touchdowns as the Cougars defeated Edwardsburg 42-31 in the Division 4 championship game.

It was the second straight title for Catholic Central (14-0), and the program’s fourth overall. Coach Todd Kolster has led the Cougars to three of them (2010, 2016 and 2017).

“It has nothing to do with me,” Kolster said. “I’m the beneficiary of being the head coach for three of these, but it’s the kids that do all the work. They’re outstanding. This senior class, I love them so much. I’ve been so critical of them, and I say that all the time, because I came back here to Catholic Central with that class when they were freshmen and now they’re seniors. It’s really special to see these guys enjoy this, because they’ve earned every bit of it.”

This year’s title game was in stark contrast to last season’s when the Cougars eked out a 10-7 victory in a defensive struggle against Detroit Country Day. Big plays from both offenses highlighted Friday night’s game as Catholic Central had to battle to hold off a relentless Edwardsburg team down the stretch.

“They all mean the same,” Kolster said. “They all come in the right column, so we’ll take it.”

Seven of the game’s scoring plays were 20 yards or longer, including an MHSAA Finals record-tying 99-yard kick return touchdown by Edwardsburg’s Caden Goggins, and a MHSAA Finals record-tying 90-yard touchdown run by his teammate Nick Bradley.

On the night, the Eddies (12-2) averaged 9.7 yards per play and 10.8 yards per carry, while Catholic Central averaged 7.7 yards per play in managing to outgain Edwardsburg 448-369.

“Our defense, they played well -- we gave up a couple big plays, and Edwardsburg is a heck of a football team,” Kolster said. “We gave up three (big) kickoff returns and three big plays, but we handled them pretty well. That’s what they do, and that’s why they’re so good. That’s why they’re here, because they just keep at it, they keep at it and they’ll pop one, and they have confidence in that. But we have confidence in our guys.”

The Cougars’ defense did stiffen when it absolutely had to, as sophomore Ethan Lott came up with a tackle for loss on a 4th-and-1 play late in the fourth quarter to all but seal the game.

“Our guys did a great job on that 4th-and-1; it’s just a matter of reading their keys,” Kolster said. “I’m really proud of them.”

The game was absolutely put away when Fugate went 58 yards on a 3rd-and-10 in the final minute, barely getting tripped up at the Edwardsburg 10. It was another in a long line of huge plays for Fugate, who had touchdown runs of one, five, 54 and 32 yards, as well as a 20-yard touchdown reception from Jack Bowen.

Fugate also had 86 yards receiving and came down with a 38-yard catch along the sideline on a crucial 3rd-and-28 play midway through the fourth quarter with his team clinging to a 35-31 lead.

“The long third down, I saw (Bowen) leave the pocket and I was running my route and knew I had to get open,” Fugate said. “I just kind of boxed my guy out and said throw the ball, and I just did my best to make a play on the ball, and I was able to come down with it.”

The game put Fugate over 2,900 yards rushing for the season, and capped off a brilliant career that saw him set the school’s all-time career rushing record.

“Fugate is obviously a terrific runner,” Edwardsburg coach Kevin Bartz said. “I thought he ran as hard as I’ve ever seen him. We watched a good portion of film on him, and we knew he was fast, but I guess what I was more impressed with today is how hard he ran. He picked up lots of extra yards after contact. He’s an impressive athlete.”

Bartz was equally impressed with his team, which was playing in the title game for the first time and kept finding ways to hang around despite trailing by 16 midway through the third quarter.

On top of the record-tying touchdowns, the Eddies had scoring runs of 55 and 78 yards from Kyle Shrider, and 64 yards from Chase Sager. Shrider finished with 162 yards rushing, while Bradley had 96 and Sager had 73.

“Just to make it to this point, this was a team that was not expected to be here,” Bartz said. “With the number of kids we lost last year, we were kind of expected, I think, by most to be average at best. For them to come out here and perform against a top-level team like Grand Rapids CC, I’m extremely proud of these kids. They’ve now set the bar pretty high for everybody else at Edwardsburg.”

Bowen finished with 128 yards passing for the Cougars, while Erik Grabow had a 14-yard touchdown run.

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Playoffs are sponsored by the Michigan Army National Guard.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central players raise the winner's trophy after Friday night’s Division 4 championship game. (Middle) Edwardsburg’s Kyle Shrider pulls away from a Cougars defender.

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.)