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 [email protected] 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.)

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.)