Ithaca Finds a Hero in Hessbrook

November 23, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – Logan Hessbrook started at quarterback for Ithaca’s junior varsity last season as a sophomore, and probably would start for a few hundred teams that don't have the luxury of all-state quarterbacks every season.

But neither takes away from the fact that he’d taken only one or two reps at the position during the last four weeks of practice. With junior superstar Travis Smith behind center, there really wasn't a need.

So when Smith was injured on his team's second play of Friday’s MHSAA Division 6 Final at Ford Field, his coach and top receiver were quick to offer encouragement.

“I said, ‘Listen bud. Travis isn't coming back,’” Ithaca coach (and Logan’s uncle) Terry Hessbrook said. “’We’re going to live and die with you. Just play the way you’re capable of playing.’”

Senior Markes Gadlen – a three-year starting receiver and the third-string quarterback – also took Logan aside. “I can’t see over the line,” Gadlen told him, “so I was just letting him know he’s all we've got.”

And Hessbrook was more than enough.

Ithaca won its third straight MHSAA title – with a third quarterback leading the way – by downing Constantine 37-27. It was the second straight season the teams met in the championship game.

And Hessbrook was the most unlikely of heroes. Sure, he’s a starting defensive back. But in his number 26 jersey, he couldn't have looked more out of place running the offense – until he led it to four straight scores to break the game open midway through the fourth quarter.

“I was obviously nervous at the beginning, but I settled in as the game went on, and my teammates kept picking me up,” Hessbrook said. “They were saying you’re all right, we can help you, we can pick you up. The linemen did a great job blocking, the receivers did a good job blocking on the edge, and they ran good routes. We just did what we could do.”

The win also gave Ithaca its third straight 14-0 season. That streak of 42 straight victories is fourth in MHSAA history and two from tying for second. It’s also second and one win shy of the longest streak among those that took place entirely within the playoff era that began in 1975.

The Yellowjackets have beaten opponents by an average of 37 points over those games. And this season, they scored their most points (675, good for third-most in MHSAA history) and gave up their fewest (110) of the streak. But this game had all the signs of a streak buster.

“This might be the toughest game we've ever been a part of,” Terry Hessbrook said. “We haven’t faced a lot of adversity during this run. And a lot of our games have been over in the second or the third quarter. For these players to continue to fight the way they (were), I can’t put it into words and I can’t express how proud I am of the way they just kept fighting.”

Smith was hurt on a four-yard run on his team’s second play from scrimmage. But after that and despite his sizable absence, this rematch began playing out a lot like the teams' matchup in 2011.

Like last season, Ithaca and Constantine went into halftime tied – this time 20-20. And like last season, Ben Mallo and the Falcons’ run game was doing just about everything they wanted.

That’s hardly rare – the team ran for 6,407 yards on the season. And in this game, Constantine ran for 287 yards during the first half, and Mallo had 147. But after the Yellowjackets reviewed their assignments during halftime, the Falcons added only 130 more yards over the final two quarters.

And Logan Hessbrook looked like yet another star Ithaca quarterback. After completing just 2 of 5 passes this season heading into the game, he hit 7 of 13 for 104 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 113 yards and two more scores.

“ We've struggled all year stopping people defensively. So when we game-planned to stop Ithaca, it wasn't to stop Travis Smith, so to speak,” Constantine coach Shawn Griffith said. “They did step up, I think, and show the ability to run a little bit better than we thought they were capable of doing when we came into the game. And they still hit the big pass when they needed to. You don’t win 42 straight football games because of one good football player. You've got to have a stable of them, and he’s got quite a few.”

While Ithaca’s second-half possessions amounted to 17 points, Constantine’s turned into seven – and included a turnover on downs, a lost fumble and a punt that was blocked by senior Tyler Gibson and eventually led to a field goal.

Constantine did end up with 504 total yards. Mallo ran for 207 and a touchdown – and had 12 tackles at linebacker – and sophomore Justin Hull added 102 yards and a score on the ground. Senior Tommy Reed, who didn't get to play quarterback in last season’s Final because of an injury, ran for a score and had 10 tackles at safety.

The Falcons finished 11-3 and made their run after finishing third in the Kalamazoo Valley Association.

“We were all seniors, and we all wanted to get back. We didn't want football to end, because for most of us this is our last chance,” Reed said. “Once the playoffs came, we finally started playing as a team. Our defense picked up and our offense continued to roll.

“To get back here, we had a couple turnovers that went our way, and we were able to convert on every turnover. This game was the opposite. We had a couple of turnovers and we couldn't convert, and the one we turned over to them they ended up converting. That’s what hurt us.”

Senior Jared Evers ran for one score and caught a pass for another for Ithaca. Senior Josh Capen had a team-high 10 tackles.

Click for full statistics and to watch a replay of the game. See below for the full press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ithaca quarterback Logan Hessbrook (26) eludes Constantine defenders during one of his runs Friday. (Middle) Ithaca receiver Markes Gadlen hauls in a touchdown pass midway through the second quarter. (Click for more from Terry McNamara Photography.)

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.)