Haisenleder Provides Lift-Off as Revitalized Cardinal Mooney Continues Rise

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

November 9, 2022

Brendan Haisenleder understands the specialness of his senior football season, which came to an end Friday with a 42-21 Division 8 District Final loss to Clarkston Everest Collegiate.

Bay & ThumbHe is well aware that what he accomplished at Marine City Cardinal Mooney was extraordinary.

But when asked to recap it, none of the personal milestones came up.

“It’s really awesome seeing the program and how it used to be a couple years ago and how it’s turned around,” Haisenleder said. “Just seeing the growth as a program, going from having a roster of 15 kids and now we’re at 30. It’s really awesome, and I’m really proud of how far the Mooney program has come.”

He’s certainly not wrong. Mooney was 8-3 this season, winning a playoff game for the first time since 2011 when the team was playing in the 8-player format. The first-round victory against Marlette was the first 11-player playoff win for the Cardinals since 2005.

They won the Detroit Catholic League Intersectional 2, and the 15 wins over the past two seasons were more than the previous six seasons combined.

“I think that one big thing is the work in the offseason that all of the kids put in and all of the coaches,” Haisenleder said.

Haisenleder works to break a tackle during a Week 8 win over Whitmore Lake. “We were getting a lot of stuff we needed to get done going into the season, we took everything very seriously, and we played very hard and physical on gamedays.”

But it’s undeniable that Haisenleder was at the heart of it, and his statistics tell quite a bit of the story.

He rushed for 2,302 yards, easily setting a new Mooney season record, and scored 30 offensive touchdowns. On defense, he recorded 148 tackles and five interceptions.

Mike McAndrews, Mooney’s director of admissions and boys basketball coach, didn’t mince words when he tweeted about Haisenleder’s status in Mooney history.

“The best football player to ever wear a Mooney uniform,” McAndrews wrote, tagging Haisenleder. “He took this program to new heights. He will be playing on Saturdays next year and will make a college coach very happy.”

Haisenleder wouldn’t say that he was surprised by his success this season. But he did admit that he exceeded his own very high expectations. By Week 4, he already had eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark.

“When I play, I have a lot of confidence,” he said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself that I have to put the work in so I can do the best I can to help my team. One of the goals I had was to become the single-season rushing leader at our school. … My offensive line did a great job.”

Haisenleder’s success has led to college interest. He has six offers to play at the next level, four from NAIA schools and two from Division III.

At 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, he knows he’s fighting an uphill battle in that regard, but it’s made him even more driven to succeed.

“There kind of is a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “Seeing guys that are very similar to me getting offers, and I think, ‘Man I’m right there.’”

Haisenleder’s football idol is Barry Sanders, who he was able to meet at an event in October. The size is an immediate comparison to make, and it’s easy to see how any athlete – even if they were born six years after Sanders retired – could be engrossed by Sanders highlights. But it’s Sanders’ humility that Haisenleder most wants to emulate.

“One of my favorite things about him was how humble he was,” Haisenleder said. “When he would score, he would just hand the ball to the ref and act like he’d been there before. That’s another thing I take very big pride in.”

Haisenleder said he will now take more time to figure out what his next step will be, although things won’t really slow down much for him. Conditioning for basketball already has started.

He’s a guard on the Cardinals’ basketball team, and an outfielder on the baseball team. While football became his main focus as he neared high school, he said he loves all three.

It helps that all three teams are seeing quite a bit of success at Mooney, and that many of Haisenleder’s teammates overlap on all three.

“It is cool at a small school that a lot of the same guys play the same sports,” he said. “There’s a really big brotherhood between the same guys. The family never really changes that much, and we’re really growing in chemistry with one another.”

Paul CostanzoPaul 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) Cardinal Mooney’s Brendan Haisenleder finishes one of his 30 touchdowns this fall. (Middle) Haisenleder works to break a tackle during a Week 8 win over Whitmore Lake. (Photos by Lindsey VanTiem.)

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.)