Long Losing Streak Becoming Distant Memory as Adrian Football Re-Emerges

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

October 10, 2023

It’s hard to point to one particular move that led to the resurgence of the Adrian High School football program, but there’s no doubt the Maples are back.  

Southeast & BorderJust a few years ago, they were in the throngs of a 30-game losing streak, had a difficult time fielding a junior varsity team and the school’s administration conducted a survey about possibly leaving the Southeastern Conference. 

Now, Adrian is 6-1, finished just a game out of first place in the SEC White and is primed for a Division 4 playoff run. 

“There are a lot of really good things going on with the football program, the school and athletic program,” said second-year varsity football coach Joel Przygodski. “We have great kids who love to work hard. I’m glad to see them being successful because they work so hard.” 

Przygodski is part of an overhaul at Adrian, which has seen a new superintendent, high school principal and athletic director over the last couple of years.   

“The leadership is all in line with a similar point of view about how high school athletics should be a positive experience for kids,” Przygodski said. “It’s really fun to be a part of a school district like Adrian when everybody is rowing in the same direction.” 

Historically, Adrian has had success on the football field. From 1999 to 2011, the Maples missed the playoffs just twice. Then came a series of 2-7 and 3-6 years, but a bounce-back 7-5 in 2016.  

The program took a downturn after that. 

Adrian didn’t win a game during the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons. The Maples lost 30 straight in all before defeating Brooklyn Columbia Central in Week 2 of the 2021 season. Those losses included the Maples forfeiting a 2020 playoff game – when almost all teams made the postseason due to COVID-19 – due to a lack of available players. 

Przygodski was one of the Adrian assistants during the playoff years, then left to become an assistant coach at Saline. He remained a teacher in the district, however. 

When the Adrian head coaching job opened after the 2021 season, Przygodski didn’t hesitate to throw his name into the candidate pool. 

“I taught the same kids who are playing now in middle school, so it’s not like I had to meet these kids for the first time,” he said. “It was more of a re-introduction to them. They only knew me as Mr. P, not as Coach P.  

“The kids wanted to win, they wanted that discipline and structure, and they just hadn’t had it for one reason or another.” 

Chad O’Brien, in his third year as the Adrian athletic director, is pleased with the progress of the athletic program. The baseball team won an SEC title last year, and the basketball team has had success as well. 

Maples quarterback Sean Parker rolls right behind the protection of Antonio Brown. “I think we have a lot of good people in good positions right now, and that makes a huge difference,” he said. “The continuity of the staff is huge. We have everyone on the same page. We discuss it as a group. We interact a ton. We aren’t separated. Everyone is moving in the same direction. 

“There are still things that need to be addressed, but it’s definitely different than it was two years ago.” 

The biggest turnaround has been in the football program. With some of the same players who were part of the 30-game losing streak, the Maples went 5-5 last year and are 6-1 this fall. 

The Maples opened the season with four straight wins before falling 28-18 to Chelsea, the only blemish on a great season so far. They followed up the loss to the Bulldogs with back-to-back conference wins over Jackson and Pinckney to finish 4-1 in the SEC White. They have two nonleague games left to get ready for the postseason.  

Quarterback Sean Parker is the unquestioned leader of the team.  A four-year starter, Parker has thrown for 1,147 yards and 13 touchdowns this season while completing 65 percent of his passes. He has also rushed for 356 yards. 

“He’s one of the smartest kids I’ve ever coached,” Przygodski said. “He has 4.1 GPA. He’s a very intelligent young man who works very hard. He’s kind of a silent leader, but a fun kid to be around. He’s gotten better each and every day.” 

Chase Henline is the rushing leader with 780 yards and eight touchdowns. Five Maples have more than 100 yards receiving and are in double digits for catches.  

Parker is one of 15 seniors. 

“The majority of them have played all four years, and a handful of them are four-year starters,” Przygodski said. “When you have kids who have been battle-tested and have endured some of the things they did as freshmen and sophomores, then having a pretty decent year as juniors, it sets the stage for a pretty good senior campaign with everything falling in line.” 

Przygodski is an Ann Arbor native who was head coach at his alma mater – Ann Arbor Huron – for four years before coming to Adrian in 2010. He served time as an assistant with the Maples under Phil Jacobs and was in Milan for a year. He then worked under Joe Palka at Saline for four years. 

“I learned a lifetime of football working for Joe for those four years,” he said. “I think the biggest thing I got from him is how he organized. Everything was down to the details. If you put our practice plan and their practice plan next to each other, it would probably look similar. That’s probably the thing I learned the most.” 

Przygodski isn’t worried about an encore just yet, but praised Adrian for its facilities and strength and conditioning program under Toby Ernst, now in his second year. 

“They check all of the boxes of what you need to be competitive and successful in high school sports,” Przygodski said. “The community support has been phenomenal. It’s a place where you can compete and win.” 

O’Brien said Adrian will continue to move forward with its athletic program. 

“We’ve always had good kids here. We just had to have the right people directing them,” O’Brien said. “The biggest thing is we are going to do what’s right for kids, do what’s right for our district and do what’s right for our league. Every decision we make, we make sure we are following that.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Adrian’s Carson DeKeyser (7) and Thomas Dayharsh celebrate a touchdown during Friday’s 34-0 win over Pinckney. (Middle) Maples quarterback Sean Parker rolls right behind the protection of Antonio Brown. (Photos by Deloris Clark-Osborne.)

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.)