Moore Making Case as Best of Martin Luther King's QB Greats

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

October 7, 2021

It might come as no surprise to many, but we could be watching the best quarterback that's ever been a part of the rich football history at Detroit Martin Luther King.

Let's begin with Darnell Dickerson, an `86 King graduate. Dickerson was the Detroit News' No. 1 Blue Chip prospect and went on to play at Pittsburgh. More recently there's Dequan Finn, who led King to the 2016 Division 2 title. Finn is currently the back-up quarterback at Toledo.  

Now there's Dante Moore. Moore (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) is still a junior, so there's still much for him to accomplish, and for us to witness, at King.

As a freshman, Moore led the Crusaders to the Division 2 title game before they lost to Muskegon Mona Shores, 35-26. Last season, King lost to River Rouge, 33-30, in a Division 3 Regional Final. This season, King is 5-1 and one of the favorites to win the Division 3 title. Its only loss was Carmel High, 42-40. Carmel (6-1) is one of the top teams in Indiana.

Tyrone Spencer is in his sixth season as King's head coach and he realizes, with Moore, he has a special player.

“He's very poised, mature for his age,” Spencer said. “He's a class act on and off the field. He's got a great arm and great accuracy.”

Moore, 16, attended a number of camps throughout the country this past summer including many in the South including at Auburn, Clemson, Florida State and Georgia. At the Elite 11 camp in California, Moore was able to gauge how he measures up to a number of the top quarterbacks in the country, many of whom are a year older, and he more than held his own.

In only four games on the field (two wins came by forfeit), Moore has completed 67 of 95 pass attempts, for 1,280 yards and 17 touchdowns. He's received 27 scholarship offers including from Michigan and Michigan State.

Despite all of the hype Moore has received, he remains grounded. He's a quiet leader, but a leader nonetheless. As a sophomore he was elected captain, a rarity for any program but especially one as successful as King.

Detroit Martin Luther King football“I remember my first snap (as a freshman) against Detroit Catholic Central at Wayne State,” he said. “It was crazy. Now I'm a junior, and I'm just thankful being with my teammates at a school like King.”

Moore was King's starter from day one, and he remembers well that first game against DCC – a 24-22 defeat against the Shamrocks, who went on to share the Detroit Catholic League Central title.

“It was crazy, taking my first snap,” Moore said. “Now I'm a junior. It goes so fast.”

Life has its twists and turns, and Moore has had his share. Born in East Cleveland, Ohio, Moore and his family moved to Detroit when he was 5. His father grew up in the Detroit area and went to Southfield High, where he competed in basketball, football and track, and job opportunities brought Otha Moore and his family back to Detroit.

But before all that took place, Moore and his family had moved to Lorain, located just west of Cleveland, then they went to live with his grandmother on a farm in Lancaster, located just southeast of Columbus. Too young to be responsible for chores such as milking cows and such, Moore did get a taste of farm life and the early-to-bed, early-to-rise lifestyle.

In addition to football, Moore began playing soccer at an early age. From second grade through eighth Moore was on the pitch either as a goalkeeper or a striker. He credits that sport for improving his footwork. When asked if he'd play soccer if King sponsored the sport, Moore quickly replied yes and admits he misses the game. He does get a few opportunities to show those foot skills; Moore is King's punter and has handled the place-kicking duties at times.

There was a transitionary period, country life to the big city, but Moore said because he's the out-going type, it didn't take him long to make new friends. It was this type of personality that years later would lead to a relationship that would not only grow into a strong friendship, but one that would have a lasting effect on his development as a quarterback.

While working out at a Southfield health club, Moore recognized Devin Gardner – the former Inkster star and Michigan quarterback/receiver – going through his workout. Moore wasn't going miss out on this chance meeting. He introduced himself, and they almost instantly became friends. For the past three years or so, Gardner has worked with Moore, mostly during the offseason. But rarely does a week go by when the two don’t talk about football, school, you name it.

“We talk about anything,” Moore said. “We tell each other jokes. We go to fairs together. He gives me advice on how to be a better man in my life. He's making an impact. He gets me mentally prepared.”

Moore first acknowledges his father as the one who's had the greatest impact in his life – athletically, emotionally and socially. After that, it's his other family – the King coaching staff – who has played such an important part in his development.

First there's Spencer, then there's quarterback coach Jerrell Noland – a former King quarterback (2007 graduate) who played at Kentucky State – and Terel Patrick, King's offensive coordinator. Both Spencer and Patrick coached under one of the icons in Detroit's coaching history, James Reynolds, and Patrick like Noland also played for Reynolds.

“I lean on (Patrick's) shoulder,” Moore said. “He helps me break down film and be prepared. It's not all about football at King. It's family.”

As for college, Moore has placed those decisions on hold until after the season.

“I'm just thankful I have the opportunity to play at a school like King,” he said. “I'm concentrating on the season and winning a state title. At the end of the season, I'll narrow down my choices.”

Tom Markowski primarily covered high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. He also is a former correspondent and web content director for State Champs! Sports Network. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS (Top) King quarterback Dante Moore (5) avoids the pressure during a 41-34 Week 3 win over Detroit Cass Tech. (Middle) Moore interviews after the game with Bally Sports Detroit. (Photos by Quintin Love Jr.)

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.)