Performance: GR Catholic Central's Nolan Fugate

October 13, 2017

Nolan Fugate
Grand Rapids Catholic Central senior – Football

Fugate, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound running back, ran 37 times for 477 yards and five touchdowns in GRCC’s 57-50 win over Comstock Park on Oct. 6. His rushing yardage ranked fourth-most in MHSAA history for one game and second-most in the state since 1990, earning Fugate the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Also the leading rusher on last season’s team that won the Division 4 championship, Fugate has carried the ball 111 times for 1,137 yards and 13 touchdowns this fall – averaging 10 yards per carry. He's amassed those numbers despite limited attempts in four running clock games this fall. After coming up for the playoffs but seeing little action as a sophomore, and then moving into a prominent role the last two seasons, Fugate is fourth in GRCC history with 335 career carries, second with 2,537 career yards, tied for second with 27 career rushing touchdowns and fifth with a career average of 7.6 yards per carry. And like any good back, he knows to credit those clearing the way – Fugate follows an outstanding line led by 6-5, 270-pound Jalen Mayfield, who has committed to sign with University of Michigan.

Fugate also ran track last season for the first time in high school and plans to do so again this spring. He hopes to return to the basketball program as well – he played subvarsity his first two years before taking last season off. He’s aiming to continue his football career after high school and has interest from many of the state’s top Division II programs plus a few at the Division I mid-major and NAIA levels. Fugate is planning to study business and carries a 3.2 grade-point average. Wherever he goes, that program will get a proven winner – GRCC is 7-0 this fall heading into tonight’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue title-deciding matchup with reigning Division 5 champion Grand Rapids West Catholic, and the Cougars are 21-2 with Fugate on the roster.

Coach Todd Kolster said: "I think the world of Nolan. He is a very self-motivated young man. He is very mentally tough and has worked extremely hard to help lead our team. He is a great teammate and a high-character person. He's is a great competitor. ... He is one of the best tailbacks in the state of Michigan; he rushed for over 1,600 yards and 21 touchdowns a year ago. He could have very gaudy statistics and surpassed those totals already if I played him in those other (running clock) weeks." 

Performance Point: “We had a good gameplan coming in, and I think we executed really well and our line blocked really well and it was just a good night offensively,” Fugate said of the Comstock Park win. “I knew I was having a pretty good night. I knew I had some big runs, and I was just following my blocks, but I didn’t know the exact yards I had. I was actually pretty surprised (at the yardage total). I had some big runs the first possession, and I could see our offensive line executing their blocks well so I was figuring I would have a pretty big night. The first play we had the ball in the second half, I broke a 72-yard run. That was my favorite run because I broke out into the open and I just ran past everyone and I could hear the crowd screaming.”

Following Jalen: “He’s my best friend too, and it’s pretty special. You don’t get a chance to run behind the best lineman in the state very often, so I’m pretty fortunate. We shared a moment when we talked about how good of a night it was, and it was just a really special night overall.”

Great expectations: “We’ve just been listening to the coaching staff, and whatever they’ve asked we’ve been executing to the best of our ability. And we’ve been staying focused throughout the week trying to have the best practices we could have. We realize the expectations are high, so we just have to stay focused on each game and play united and just get better each day. You’ve just got to worry about one thing at a time and for that (opponent), and you can’t look ahead to the playoffs. … We knew the expectations were high, but I had faith. We definitely had more talent last year, but I feel like we’ve executed a lot better this year up to this point. I knew we could be special, and if we just keep working out each day and bringing it every day I think it will turn out really well.”

Running like “All Day” Adrian: “My favorite running back is probably (the Phoenix Cardinals’) Adrian Peterson, so growing up I always watched him. He’s a strong, explosive, physical runner. I like how he runs downhill and he’s always physical, and when he gets an opening he’s very explosive.”

Hooping like a football player: “A kid I grew up with (point guard Austin Braun) has been talking to me about (playing basketball). I was thinking about it, and I think I’m just going to do it. I think our team will do really well this year, so it would be fun to be a part of it. I’ll probably play really physical. I’ll probably be like the sixth man, bring intensity and defense and rebounding. That’ll probably be my job."

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Nolan Fugate runs away from the Comstock Park defense during last week’s 57-50 win. (Middle) Fugate prepares to take on a Comstock Park defender. (Photos by Murray Sports Photography.)

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.)