North Central Builds On High-Flying Fame with Repeat Title

By Adam Niemi
Special for Second Half

November 20, 2021

MARQUETTE — In the end, the encore wasn't that much different than the first title run for the latest Powers North Central powerhouse team.

The Jets got off to a fast start en route to a 63-0 win against Colon to repeat as MHSAA 8-player Division 2 champions Saturday. Last season, many of the same standouts led North Central to a 70-48 championship game win over Portland St. Patrick.

"Oh gosh, it just feels great," Powers North Central head coach Leo Gorzinski said. "Like I've been telling these guys all week, we come this far, we work this hard and let's finish it. And that's been the rallying point all week. We talked about all the time people didn't work. They were in a weight room since February, two-a-days in August. So they weren't going to let this one slip away. But it's a great feeling."

Saturday's title adds to the Jets' 8-player football championship pedigree with go-to athletes. This championship also was the their fourth in seven years.

The Jets (13-0) won these two with Luke Gorzinski at quarterback. The Jets also won back-to-back championships in 2015 and 2016, led by quarterback Jason Whitens, now a redshirt senior basketball player at Michigan State, with then-head coach Kevin Bellefeuil.

"I want to thank all the guys that come before us," Gorzinski said. "Once they showed it can be done, everybody started believing that it was possible. And then once they believed it, now they want to be the ones to let it go. We've got a pretty good thing going right now."

The 2021 season will go down as one of the most dominant in Michigan 8-player history. Through 13 games, the Jets outscored opponents 745-43, an average game score of 57 to 3.

The details of Saturday's win hinted at the athleticism and depth that spurred the Jets on. They had 520 yards of offense. Colon had 126.

Colon received the kickoff to start the game, and the Jets' defense set the tone with three straight tackles for loss and forced a three-and-out from Colon's 4-yard line.

The Jets' potent defense went on to hold the Magi rushing game to minus-14 yards on 20 carries.

Saturday also spelled the end to Colon's Cinderella run. The Magi had beaten undefeated teams in every round of the playoffs except Saturday.

Junior quarterback Simon Vinson went down with an injury with 1:01 remaining in the first quarter. Magi head coach Robbie Hattan said Vinson's injury changed the mood on the sidelines.

"Losing Simon, when Simon went down, some kids put their heads down and they couldn't bounce back from that," Hattan said. "I'll give my kids credit. The second half they battled, we played much better in the second half defensively. A lot of the kids struggled getting used to the heat here. Right away they're cramping, and somehow our Gatorade was left on the bus and the kids couldn't refuel. It just was a weird day for us."

Powers North Central senior running back Wyatt Raab scored both touchdowns to open the game, from 15 and 30 yards out, respectively. He finished the day with 101 yards on five carries (20.2 yards per carry).

Luke Gorzinski led with a game-high 125 yards on 15 carries (8.3 yards per carry) and a touchdown.

Colon/Powers North Central footballColon (11-2) started drives deep in its own territory early on, and were forced to punt. Their average field position to start a drive was their own 27-yard line.

Holding the Magi deep in their territory meant the Jets had a short field for most of the day, leading to a quick succession of scores. North Central had 369 yards of total offense in the first half alone.

Powers North Central rushed for 236 yards on 20 carries with four TDs in the first half and led 49-0.

North Central executed as efficiently as it had all season. The Jets moved the chains all game while their defense prevented Colon's offense from doing the same.

Gorzinski had two sacks and 10 tackles. Drew Webber had six tackles. Caden Tietz, Drew Allgeyer and Lane Nehring each had a sack. Owen Eichmeier had an interception.

Tucker Lafler had 11 tackles to lead Colon's defense. Owen Wilson had eight and Kaleb Johnson had six.

"They're so competitive with one another — it's our depth" Leo Gorzinski said of the defense. "We've got so many kids that are the same caliber, same type of athlete. So day in and day out they're fighting for every single position. They want to show Coach 'l caught it over so-and-so, tackle over so-and-so.’"

Saturday was the Magi's second Finals appearance in three seasons after winning the 2019 Division 1 championship against Suttons Bay. The Magi lost in the Regional Finals in 2020 to Portland St. Patrick, which then lost to the Jets in the Final.

Hattan said there were naysayers even within Colon as the team made its playoff run. That, and falling a game short of a championship, is a motivator for next year, he said.

"Nobody expected us to be here. Even some people in our community were 'It's a rebuilding year,'” he said. "We lost, we only had two returning starters on offense, two returning starters on defense. Nobody expected us to be here. We return a lot of players (next season). We graduate like six seniors, three of them that were starters. We have some holes to replace, but we return a lot of kids. Now, this is motivation for some of our guys to get bigger, faster, stronger.

"They understand where they’ve got to work now to bring us back here and get to the next step, which is winning the state championship."

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Powers North Central’s Wyatt Raab (17) celebrates a touchdown during Saturday’s Division 2 Final at Superior Dome. (Middle) Colon’s Kodey Dovey (5) works to elude the Jets’ Carter Tietz (32). (Photos by Cara Kamps. Click for more.)

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.)