A Game for Every Fan: Week 1 Preview

August 26, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The first weekend of high school football season always is filled with new beginnings. But that doesn't mean that all making fresh starts are completely unfamiliar. 

A pair of grand old stadiums will have new looks. Thousands of fans are expected to file into Flint’s Atwood Stadium on Thursday and Mount Pleasant’s Community Stadium on Friday for the first games after both received major renovations this offseason. 

And plenty of stars from last season are back for another go. Thousands more will likely pour into Wayne State University on Saturday for the Prep Kickoff Classic to watch six of the Detroit area's annual MHSAA Finals contenders, and top teams from all over the state are facing off against each other to get 2015 underway. 

There are no shortage of games to watch, no matter where you call home. Below is a look at games that stand out from each of eight regions across the state, plus from our group of 8-player matchups. All are Friday unless noted. Records listed are from 2014. 

And make sure to follow results as they come in on the MHSAA Score Center, and come back to Second Half later Monday for our round up of the most significant results from the first week. 

Bay & Thumb

Marysville (7-4) at Richmond (10-2) (Thurs.)

Richmond advanced to the Division 4 Regional Finals last season with its first double-digit win season since 2003 and thanks to two over Marysville – 47-0 on opening night and 48-6 in the District Final. But the Vikings quietly have earned six playoff berths in seven seasons and might have an opening for revenge this week with an experienced lineup taking on a Richmond team filled with new starters.

Others that caught my eye: Saginaw Nouvel (4-5) at New Lothrop (11-1) (Thurs.), Millington (9-2) at Vassar (5-4) (Thurs.), Davison (4-5) at Fenton (9-1) (Thurs.), Grand Blanc (5-4) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (8-3).

Greater Detroit

Warren DeLaSalle (11-3) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (8-2) at Wayne State (Sat.)

The reigning Division 2 champion, DeLaSalle, takes on a favorite this season in King. The Crusaders are keyed by some of the state’s most impressive offensive players in receiver Donnie Corley and running back Martell Pettaway, while the Pilots will attempt to slow them returning important cogs back from a defense that gave up only 12.8 points per game last fall.  

Others that caught my eye: Clarkston (14-0) at Macomb Dakota (8-3) (Thurs.), East Kentwood (11-2) at Farmington Hills Harrison (10-3), Muskegon (12-2) at Detroit Catholic Central (4-5), Southfield (9-4) vs Detroit Cass Tech (12-1) at Wayne State (Sat.).


Beal City (10-3) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (5-5)

These nonconference rivals have opened with against other all but two seasons going back to 1991, and this weekend will do so to debut the renovated Community Stadium. The Aggies are coming off another long playoff run, just missing a third straight trip to the MHSAA Finals with a three-point loss in the Semifinal. Sacred Heart hasn’t made the Finals since 2010, but is riding 10 playoff appearances over 11 seasons and looking to avenge some heavy losses to Beal City as of late.

Others that caught my eye: Clare (8-3) at Ithaca (13-1) (Thurs.), Mason (8-4) at Okemos (6-4) (Thurs.), Madison Heights Madison (9-3) at Pewamo-Westphalia (10-3) (Thurs.), Midland Dow (10-1) at Mount Pleasant (7-4).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Mendon (10-2) at Boyne City (12-1) (Thurs.)

Boyne City is following up tying its best record ever and falling by only four in last season’s Division 6 Semifinals by taking on perennial power Mendon in what should be one of the state’s best games outside Detroit this weekend. The Hornets have won at least 10 games eight straight seasons and in 11 of the last 12. Boyne City has made the playoffs 10 of the last 12 seasons and set a school record scoring 500 points in 2014.

Others that caught my eye: Reed City (9-3) at Baldwin (10-2), Marquette (7-3) at Traverse City St. Francis (9-3), Johannesburg-Lewiston (9-2) at Mancelona (6-4), Sault Ste. Marie (5-4) at Petoskey (9-3).

Southeast & Border

Rockford (8-3) at Saline (12-2)

Expectations are high after Saline made the MHSAA Finals last season for the first time, falling to Clarkston 33-25 in the Division 1 championship game. Quarterback Joshua Jackson is among returnees and is considered one of the state’s most dynamic at his position. But teams learned long ago they can’t look past Rockford – and that’s hardly made a difference as the Rams haven’t missed the playoffs since 1994 and went 8-3 last season despite being outscored for the season.

Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Northview (6-4) at Chelsea (9-3) (Thurs.), Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (13-1) at Tecumseh (5-5) (Thurs.), Pittsford (7-3) at Morenci (10-2), Clinton (10-1) at Manchester (8-2).

Southwest Corridor

Portage Northern (7-4) at Battle Creek Lakeview (9-2) (Thurs.)

These two are facing off on opening night for the second straight year and after three games of significance over the last two seasons. Although Portage Northern beat Lakeview 28-24 in last season’s opener, Lakeview beat the Huskies in their Division 2 District Final 21-0 after eliminating Northern in the first round in 2013, 31-7. Lakeview didn’t lose again after last season’s opener until falling in the Regional Final.

Others that caught my eye: Plainwell (8-2) at Three Rivers (6-4) (Thurs.), Caledonia (7-3) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (6-5), Stevensville Lakeshore (8-3) at Battle Creek Central (5-4), Mattawan (6-4) at Portage Central (7-2)

Upper Peninsula

Iron River West Iron County (9-2) at Munising (12-2)

Munising made last season’s Division 8 Final and pulled off its best finish since 1980 led by a handful of elite seniors whose only other loss last fall came on opening night – 28-6 to Iron River West Iron County. The combination of both should give these Mustangs plenty of motivation against a Wykons team that has won 19 of its last 20 regular-season games.

Others that caught my eye: Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-2) at Bark River-Harris (8-3), Iron Mountain (6-4) at Ishpeming (12-1), Central Lake (6-5) at St. Ignace (10-1), Marinette (3-6) (Wis.) at Menominee (12-1) (Sat.).

West Michigan

Jackson Lumen Christi (11-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (14-0)

Few teams in Michigan are replacing superstars on the level of graduated Lumen Christi running back Khari Willis and West Catholic quarterback Travis Russell. But both teams have been down this road before. West Catholic is the two-time reigning Division 5 champion and has 10 or more wins in six straight seasons;  Lumen, while coming off its most wins since 2009, has made the playoffs 17 straight times.  

Others that caught my eye: Grand Rapids Catholic Central (6-4) at East Grand Rapids (6-4) (Thurs.), Walled Lake Western (9-2) at Lowell (10-2) (Thurs.), Muskegon Catholic Central (14-0) at Muskegon Oakridge (8-2), Grand Rapids Christian (6-5) at Grand Rapids South Christian (12-2)


Kingston (7-4) at Deckerville (9-3)

A couple pockets of 8-player dominance have cropped up over the first few seasons of the sport, and these are two of the best and most consistent programs coming from Michigan’s thumb. Deckerville won the MHSAA title in 2012 and made the Semifinals last season after sweeping Kingston 14-8 in Week 2 but then 72-22 in the Regional Final. They play twice this season during the regular season alone; this one doesn’t count in the North Central Thumb 8-Man League standings, but the rematch comes in Week 4.

Others that caught my eye: Owendale-Gagetown (8-2) at New Haven Merritt (6-4) (Thurs.), Rapid River (10-1) at Onaway (4-5).

PHOTO: Saline quarterback Joshua Jackson prepares to hand off during last season’s Division 1 Final against Clarkston. Both teams’ returns to the field this weekend are among the most highly-anticipated in Michigan. 

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.

Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.

“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.

“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”

That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.

He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.

“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better. 

“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”

Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.

His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.

“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).

“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.

Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.

“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”

The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.

"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.

“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.

Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.

“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”

Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”

Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.

“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.

"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.

“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”

Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”

Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.

“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”

The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.

“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”

Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes. 

“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.

“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)