Lumen Christi Grinds, then Rises in D6

November 25, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – The low was never that low, given the circumstances Jackson Lumen Christi played through during a 1-2 start this season.

But the high was definitely up there Friday as the Titans reached a peak they hadn’t visited since 2009.

Reminiscent of the teams that won three MHSAA championships during the first decade of this century, Lumen Christi’s latest contender rattled off 11 straight wins this fall, eliminated two top-three ranked favorites during the playoffs and finished with a workmanlike 26-14 win over Maple City Glen Lake in the Division 6 Final.

The title was the prize, of course, but the journey is worth celebrating as well. The Titans opened this season with a 17-point loss to Grand Rapids West Catholic, which will play for the Division 5 title Saturday. Two weeks later, Lumen fell to another eventual playoff team in Battle Creek Harper Creek. But the ensuing win streak included a run through the rest of the competitive Interstate 8 Athletic Conference and playoff wins over No. 2 Schoolcraft and No. 3 Millington before the fifth-ranked Titans took down the No. 6 Lakers.

“We were just so determined to get to this point, and we did,” Lumen junior fullback/linebacker Kyle Minder said. “After starting off 1-2, we were kinda down. We still had faith that we were going to make the playoffs. We had some tough games coming up; it was going to be a battle just to get into the playoffs.

"(But) we were on a roll, and it just never stopped.”

The Titans ran for 298 yards and held the Lakers to a mere four on the ground, overpowering them at times on the line and pounding with Minder on both sides of the ball while senior Bo Bell rattled off one of the busiest rushing games in MHSAA Finals history.

Bell ran 40 times for 238 yards – 11th-most for a championship game – to finish this fall unofficially with 2,666 yards, 16th most in MHSAA history for one season. His 340 carries ranked seventh, and he ran for a touchdown as well to give him 33 total, which is tied for 21st on that single-season list.

“I like putting the team on my back, but I can’t do this on my own,” said Bell, as he pointed out the contributions of his offensive line, Minder and junior quarterback Troy Kutcha. “All the hard work’s worth it; that’s all I can say,” Bell added.

Lumen Christi had 13 seniors on its roster. Although all but a couple were starters or second string by the end of the season, only about half had seen the field at the beginning – and the Titans also started three sophomores and a freshman.

But the 24-14 Harper Creek loss left longtime coach Herb Brogan optimistic.

“I said to the coaches, ‘I’m not down, because we really competed hard against a good football team, and we’re going to get better,’” said Brogan, who has led Lumen Christi to 331 wins – fifth all-time – and seven of its nine championships since taking over the program in 1980. “The next two games, we pulled out games that were critical games going in.

“The kids, they really like each other, and not every team likes each other. It’s difficult when you have a small senior group. … When you get a mix of young kids in there, you have to have a special senior group to make that thing jell. That’s what I give a lot of credit to our seniors for; they gave us the leadership we needed.”

Minder, who ran for 66 yards on 21 carries, chugged in for his first of three touchdowns to start the scoring with 4:36 left in the first quarter. He added his second score 4:31 into the second, and picked up the third with 10 seconds left in the first half to make the score 20-7.

Along the way, Glen Lake junior quarterback Cade Peterson found junior Nick Rice for a 57-yard touchdown strike down the right side, and his 9-yard scoring pass to junior Nick Apsey brought the Lakers to within 26-13 with 9:47 to play.

But as a team that runs well is able to do, Lumen Christi (12-2) ground 8:04 off the clock going only 50 yards but on 17 plays, leaving Glen Lake little time to attempt a final rally.

The Lakers (11-3) were playing their first MHSAA Final since 1996 and after also eliminating top-eight teams in Calumet and Roscommon along the way.

“We didn’t get it done on two 4th-and-1s, or 4th-and-inches, which really was the surprising part,” Glen Lake coach Jerry Angers said. “And of course, they rushed the ball well. We blew some assignments. We made a couple big mistakes and didn’t get our run fits correctly, and it opened up the door for those guys.”

Peterson completed 15 of 20 passes for 254 yards, especially impressive because of Glen Lake’s troubles balancing things on the ground. Rice caught five passes for 116 yards.

Apsey, senior linebacker Tony Duperon and senior safety Jared Jackson had 11 tackles apiece for the Lakers.

“I’m just so grateful that we came down here with our team. A lot of people didn’t really expect this out of us,” Peterson said. “Obviously, we proved them wrong and we gave these guys a good fight.

“I’m going to miss these seniors a lot. They’re a great group of guys. But we’re coming back next year.”

Click for the full box score.

The MHSAA Football Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Jackson Lumen Christi players hoist the championship trophy after winning Division 6 on Friday. (Middle) Titans running back Bo Bell follows the blocking of teammate Kyle Minder. 

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for

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.)