Garber Standout VanSumeren Does it All

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

September 13, 2017

Ben VanSumeren doesn’t get much rest during Essexville Garber football games.

Not that he wants or needs it.

“I worked out twice a day throughout the summer because I knew I would be playing every down,” the do-it-all senior said. “I think I’ve sat out two plays the whole season. One, I had a 60-yard touchdown, then I ran in the two-point conversion, and I’m the kicker, so they didn’t have me kick (the ensuing kickoff).

“I just love playing football.”

VanSumeren is going to have plenty of opportunity to continue playing the game he loves. He‘s a Division I tight end and linebacker prospect with scholarship offers from 11 college programs – Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Cincinnati, Air Force, Columbia, Eastern Michigan, Harvard, Missouri, Navy, Yale and Minnesota.

He’s had significant interest from others, including Purdue, where he plans to take an official visit in the coming weeks.

His combination of size (6-foot-3, 228 pounds) and athleticism (a 4.56-second 40-yard dash and a 40-inch vertical jump) make him an obvious DI candidate, and in case you wondered if those numbers were inflated, his Nike SPARQ score (rating his athleticism based on a series of fitness tests) of 127.74 ranks him No. 10 in the nation among all prospects and No. 1 among tight ends.

“The first thing that comes to mind on Ben is he’s a freak athlete,” Garber coach Jake Coquillard said. “I think being at a small school and in mid to northern Michigan doesn’t do him justice or get his name out there the way other people would downstate. I think he would have more schools on him, to be honest.

“But his work ethic is absolutely off the charts. He has a constant will to be better, which as a coach, I don’t know if I’ll ever have another kid that works and wants to have perfection as much as him, and that means in the game of football, in the weight room or in life. He’s a special, special young man.”

Coquillard believes VanSumeren’s greatest potential is on the offensive side of the ball, as he fits the mold of a prototypical receiving tight end. But defense, which is fairly new for him this season, has come pretty naturally, too.

“A lot of the big Power 5 schools have wanted him for defense,” Coquillard said. “He didn’t play much defense last year and he didn’t even have film. But they look at him at 6-3, 224 to 230 and they’re thinking backer. This year he is playing outside linebacker for us and doing a good job. He’s definitely not afraid to come get you.”

Playing at the Division I college level is something VanSumeren has known he was capable of since the sixth grade – not because of anything he had done, but because it was something he decided he wanted to do.

“It was just something I wanted, and once I get something in my head that I want, I’m going to work endlessly to get there,” he said.

His first offer came from Western Michigan University this past February, and he committed to sign with the Broncos shortly after. He de-committed in the spring after recording his jaw-dropping SPARQ score, telling MLive at the time that he wanted to evaluate all of his options and be up front with the Western coaches.

Offers started trickling in throughout the spring and summer, and college coaches were going out of their way to find the 550-student school in Bay County and pay him visits. There they were able to watch him on the baseball diamond, where he’s a standout centerfielder.

“It’s really humbling to know that six months ago I was without any offers or much college attention,” VanSumeren said. “Now I have the No. 1 SPARQ score and people are looking at Essexville Garber -- coaches are coming in asking where Essexville is.”

VanSumeren and Coquillard also have been proactive in contacting college coaches.

“We’ve contacted about every coach and program that we possibly could,” Coquillard said. “I think him being the No. 1-rated tight end as far as scores go at the Nike Opening (combine) put his name out there. We sent tape or tried to get with (coaches) on the phone to get his name out there. He is from a small school. We always say that if you’re good enough, they’ll find you. But sometimes they get lost in the shuffle, too.”

With him trying to raise his profile, one could forgive VanSumeren for focusing solely on tight end and linebacker in his senior season. He’s done anything but that, however.

He’s played quarterback and running back for the Dukes (1-2). He’s also the kicker and the punter. 

“That’s the type of person he is,” Coquillard said. “A couple games ago, we had him at quarterback and running back to try and get him the ball. He even said, ‘Coach, I think you need to move me around. I’m a team guy, and we need to get the other guys the ball, too.’

“He’s a very unselfish young man. He’s about the team, and he loves playing all the different positions. As athletically gifted as he is, I think it’s an awesome thing on his part to be willing to do that.”

In VanSumeren’s eyes, moving from position to position is a win-win.

“I’m just about the team, and if the team is going to benefit from it and if the defense can’t adjust, that’s what I’m going to do,” VanSumeren said. “And I think colleges like seeing that. I think versatility is big for colleges.”

Paul 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 with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Essexville Garber’s Ben VanSumeren follows his blockers during a Week 2 loss to Bridgeport. (Middle) VanSumeren makes a move upfield. (Photos courtesy of the Essexville Garber football program.)

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for

March 17, 2023

Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.

Northern Lower PeninsulaLast year, they nearly played in the Division 3 title game – falling in a Semifinal but almost making a dream come true for the then-juniors and their Lake Leelanau St. Mary coach, Matt Barnowski, also Dylan’s father.

That dream began for some when the boys were coached by Matt as third graders, and they made serious strides last season. Before last winter, the last time the Eagles had won a Regional championship was 1950 – and no St. Mary boys basketball team had reached the Semifinals. Bramer and Dylan Barnowski – along with current seniors Jack Glynn, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar – had high hopes of making more history this winter.

The dream ended Wednesday night with a Regional Final loss to Frankfort, which St. Mary had defeated 54-41 during the regular season. This time, the Eagles were faced with a large number of K-12 students succumbing to illness – with all five of its starters at least somewhat sick – as nearly a third of the school’s tiny enrollment was out of school the day after the loss to the Panthers.

But you won’t hear any of the players or coaches making excuses. They give all the credit to Frankfort, and they’re ready to move on. And many in the LSM family know reaching the Regional Finals this season and Breslin Center in 2022 had absolutely no probability had Bramer and Barnowski not made an iron-clad agreement last summer. 

Eagles coach Matt Barnowski coaches up his team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick.The two friends vowed to help each other despite their personal, opposing challenges.

Barnowski and Bramer, through LSM’s cooperative agreement with Suttons Bay, went 3-for-3 playing in 8-Player Division 1 Football Finals during their first three years of high school. But through last summer Barnowski, who quarterbacked the Norseman, had no interest in football.  

Bramer, meanwhile, had been nursing a quad tendon injury since his sophomore football season and battling two bad knees but was thinking he could suffer though football and sit out the basketball season to recover. The all-state running back experienced training difficulties and even had his strength training severely hampered.

Football was king for Bramer, and he also loved basketball too. Basketball is number one to Barnowski. The longtime friends decided cut a deal to help each other — and their teammates — out.

“I was kind of on the edge,” said Bramer, who plays with braces on both knees. “After talking to each other, we both ended up just playing. 

“I really shouldn’t be playing sports, but I couldn’t miss out playing with my friends,” he continued. “We just figured it was our last season so we might as well just do it.”

Dylan Barnowski and Brammer also teamed up during successful football careers. Barnowski had been considering ending his football days immediately after the Norse fell short in their third-straight trip to the Finals, at Superior Dome in Marquette in Fall 2021. That loss was at the hands of Adrian Lenawee Christian 31-20.

The Norseman graduated most of their offensive and defense lines last spring and expected to be small in numbers. Until this fall, they had lost only one regular-season game on their way to three straight title game appearances. This year they finished 3-5.

The big linemen losses — Barnowski’s protection — was forcing him to weigh his injury risk against having a senior basketball season.

“We did it for each other,” Barnowski said. “I talked with Shawn, and we knew we had a big community behind us and it would be hard for them if we just quit. 

“I knew we weren’t going to have the same powerhouse team we had,” he continued. “We weren’t very good this year, but we still had a blast.”

This week’s loss put an end to the possible Breslin championship finish, but it left the friends happy with the decision to play both sports. The Eagles finished 20-4.

Barnowski led St. Mary in scoring. He averaged better than 20 points a game with more than seven rebounds and five assists. Bramer averaged just under 15 points per game, and almost 10 rebounds.

The two big men each scored 11 in the season-ending loss. Thompson scored 14. This year’s senior-dominated team likely will be remembered for its basketball success for some time. Barnowski, Bramer and Glynn experienced only one loss in District play over their four seasons.

“It’s a really special groups of kids,” Coach Barnowski said. “These kids kind of transformed St. Mary’s basketball.  

St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Brammer, Jack Gwynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. “They’ve really built the program,” he continued. “It’s been a roller coaster ride.”

Bramer and Dylan Barnowski also played baseball in the past for the Eagles, but that likely won’t happen this spring. Barnowski plans to golf, and Bramer expects to sit the spring season out and heal.

“We’ll never forget these last four years of varsity we played,” Barnowski said. “I‘ve decided to go a more relaxing route, and I’m going for some golf.”

With their Breslin dream over, the friends are ready to enjoy the St. Mary’s community support and move on. They’re bummed so many were sick in the end but won’t use it as an excuse.

“Hats off to Frankfort,” Barnowski said. “They did an incredible job of shutting us down.”

Bramer agreed.

“They just played their game better than we did,” he said. “They took the lead at the end of the third quarter, and it was a battle from there.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) St. Mary’s seniors Dylan Barnowski, left, and Shawn Bramer hold up the team’s District championship trophy last week. (2) Eagles coach Matt Barnowski, center, and assistant Sander Scott coach up their team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick. (3) Dylan Barnowski and Bramer also teamed up during successful football careers. (4) St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Bramer, Jack Glynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. (Sideline photo by Tom Spencer; player photos by Emmerson Lamb Photography.)