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. 

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.)