MCC Extends Streak, Hands Off Legacy

November 25, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – A trio of running backs who played major roles in Muskegon Catholic Central’s last three MHSAA championships closed their high school careers celebrating the school’s fourth straight title Friday. 

Along the way, they also handed off the program’s future. 

Seniors LaTommy Scott, Logan Helton and Walker Christofferson had become Ford Field fixtures the last few seasons, and each contributed to their combined four touchdowns in this Division 8 Final. But the fifth score of MCC’s 35-6 victory over Ottawa Lake Whiteford was scored by a freshman who will take over from here – and showed the promise that makes the Crusaders look good to continue these annual trips to Detroit. 

Splitting time at quarterback with senior Trenton Bordeaux, freshman Cameron Martinez ran for a team-high 154 yards and a touchdown and threw for 61 yards and a score to help MCC pull into a tie for second all-time with its 12th MHSAA football title. 

Although a freshman, the scene wasn’t entirely unfamiliar for Martinez; his brother Christian had quarterbacked the team to its 11th title last year as a senior.

“Every time we made it, I was watching from the crowd. I couldn’t wait to put on the gold helmet and bring this team back again,” Cameron Martinez said. “I love this group of seniors. I’m going to miss them, and that’s what I wanted to do – give them their fourth straight title.”

With four straight, the Crusaders (14-0) are now one shy of the MHSAA record of five consecutive titles shared by the Farmington Hills Harrison teams from 1997-2001 and East Grand Rapids’ teams from 2006-10. With 12 championships total, MCC is tied with now-closed Detroit St. Martin dePorres for second most in the sport, one behind Harrison’s record 13 football titles.

Martinez entered the Final third on the team with 614 rushing yards, tallying 12 touchdowns on the ground, and second to Bordeaux with 540 passing yards plus nine scoring passes. Also a starting linebacker, he didn’t play offense in MCC’s 35-0 Semifinal win over St. Ignace last week. But he was impacting the Crusaders’ offense by the end of Friday’s first quarter.

Martinez’ first carry came on the final play of that quarter, for three yards, and he opened the second with a 26-yard run. He also had a 19-yard run and 23-yard pass to set up Helton’s five-yard scoring run that put the first points on the board with 9:05 to go in the first half.

After coming up shy on another drive late in the half and then pushing the score to 14-6 on a 35-yard Helton run to cap its first possession of the second, MCC made it 21-6 with 3:08 to play in the third quarter with a drive that included 55 rush yards on five Martinez carries, including the final one for three yards into the end zone.

“Anytime you have a running quarterback, you have to defend 11 and not 10; it’s just simple math sometimes,” MCC coach Steve Czerwon said. “Having somebody in the backfield as dynamic as Cameron, with the ability to make plays … people are like, ‘He’s a freshman.’ Well, he’s a freshman, fine. But he doesn’t play like a freshman.”

MCC welcomed its captains from the last three seasons to Thursday’s practice, and after, Czerwon asked Christian Martinez if he was nervous for his brother. Christian’s response to Czerwon: “Nah, he’s made for these big moments.”

“After he said that – and he knows him a heck of a lot better than I do – I felt good about using him today,” Czerwon added. “And I thought he performed very well.”

So did those seniors. Helton ran seven times for 67 yards and those two scores, and Scott ran eight times for 69 yards and scored on the 25-yard touchdown “pass” which was more of a front pitch on a sweep around the left side. Christofferson, who ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns in the Semifinal win, added the day’s final score with 1:04 to play.

Helton, also a linebacker, had 10 tackles and Christofferson, a defensive back, had seven to follow up all-state senior linebacker Andrew Schulte's team-leading 13. The Crusaders never trailed this season, and the defense was a big reason why; including 13 points surrendered over five playoff games, MCC allowed only 77 points this fall (5.5 per game).

But Friday’s score didn’t tell well how close this matchup was for most of it. Whiteford had six turnovers on downs, falling short of first downs by only a yard four times. Twice, MCC sophomore defensive back Dawson Steigman made rally-ending stops. Three of the fourth-down misses came in Crusaders territory.

Whiteford junior quarterback Thomas Eitniear was especially impressive, completing 7 of 10 passes for 96 yards and running nine times for 111 yards including the team’s lone score, an 81-yard sprint around the left end that made it 7-6 with 2:37 to go in the first half. 

“Coming into halftime, that was the exact kind of game we were looking to play – to chew clock, and we just didn’t articulate a couple of our possessions into scores,” Whiteford coach Jason Mensing said. “Second half, they found some things offensively against us and took advantage. And on top of that, we didn’t articulate our drives as well.

“Overall, I’m pleased with the effort and passion, and probably the thing I’m most proud of was I didn’t feel like the moment was too big for our kids, which oftentimes you get into this type of stage, the moment can be a little large. I thought our kids handled themselves with great composure, and that’s one of those attributes for life that really matters.”

Whiteford made its first appearance in an MHSAA Final, following up its second straight – and second ever – Semifinal appearance. The Bobcats finished 13-1.

“Me and a bunch of the senior guys, we dreamed about this since freshman year,” said senior running back Jesse Kiefer, who finished as the school’s career record holder in rushing yards, points and total offense. “Coming in and being able to play on this field, it’s just not real to me. Obviously, we wanted it to come out a different way than this, but it’s still an experience I’ll never forget.” 

Kiefer had seven tackles at linebacker, following senior safety Herbie Bertz’ 13 and junior tackle Jared Atherton’s eight. Kiefer also broke up three passes.

With it being their last, MCC’s seniors asked to not come out of this game early as they have most of this season with the Crusaders beating all of their opponents by at least two touchdowns.

But as they left Ford Field once more, surrounded by 13 underclassmen, they were confident with who might lead MCC back next time.

“Handing it off the Cameron, our program is in good hands,” Helton said. “I don’t expect anything less than what we’ve been doing.”

Click for the full box score.

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

PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon Catholic Central’s Cameron Martinez stretches toward the goal line for a score late in the third quarter. (Middle) Martinez works to elude Whiteford’s Hunter Lake.

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.)