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.)

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.)