Performance: Morrice's Hunter Nowak

November 15, 2018

Hunter Nowak
Morrice senior - Football

Morrice’s third-year varsity quarterback continued the play Friday that has helped his team to the best season in program history. Nowak ran 28 times for 158 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Orioles to a 40-8 win over Colon in an 8-Player Division 1 Semifinal, earning the senior signal-caller the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Nowak has run 204 times for 1,922 yards (9.4 yards per carry) and 33 touchdowns this season, and completed 24 of 49 passes for 529 yards and eight more scores. His 232 points rank third all-time since MHSAA-sponsored 8-player football was added a decade ago. He took over the QB spot in 2016, and Morrice went 4-5, but the Orioles improved to 9-2 last season and this fall finished the regular season 9-0 for the first time in the program’s 11 or 8-player history. Last week’s Semifinal was the team’s second ever and first since 1996, and this Saturday’s championship game against Pickford at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome will be the Orioles’ first trip to the MHSAA Finals in this sport. Along the way, Morrice avenged last season’s playoff loss to North Central Thumb League Red rival Deckerville – which went on to finish 2017 Division 1 runner-up – and handed Wyoming Tri-unity Christian its only defeat this fall in the Regional Final two weeks ago.

Nowak plays only football at Morrice, but does also play on a high school-level rugby club team based in Howell. He carries a 4.0 grade-point average while dually enrolled at Lansing Community College, and hopes to study aviation after high school with aspirations of becoming a commercial airline pilot.

Performance Point: “The defense played great. They played shutout. The defense really won us the game, I think,” Nowak said of the Semifinal win over Colon. “We were able to put up 40 points, but that was a great offense they had. … It’s the first time we ever went to a state final for this, and we’re just really excited about it. We’ve been playing football since third grade, and we’ve always had successful seasons. We always thought that especially our senior year, we always thought, man, we really need to do really good that year. For it to happen, I think it’s great, because we’ve been working hard all year (and) ever since we started playing varsity. We’re thankful to the town for showing up at the games. Everyone comes out. It’s a big deal.”

That’s when we knew: “Our sophomore year, we didn’t do too great. We got four wins as sophomores; we could’ve done better. Last year we were OK – we lost to Deckerville in the second round (38-0). … Our first game (this season), we beat Deckerville (34-14). I think that was big. We went there, we won by 20 points, and that’s when we realized we’re a good team this year – we really have a shot to go far. We had lost the second round of playoffs the year before by a lot there. So to have our first game, since playing there, be right there again, and to be able to win – it put behind all the doubt that we had last year.”

Taking this on together: “I think it’s the combination of a lot of us have been playing since third grade together. And there’s not a whole lot of us, so that bond has just grown through the years. And I think we’re just really good at football, and the whole speed thing really helps too. … I think it’s just knowing what someone else is going to do. If I’m running the ball, I can get a sense of where my lead blockers are going to go, what they’re going to do. We can try to get a sense of what other people are going to do. We can communicate easier. If something happens, we can fix it real quick, because we know how to talk to each other.”

It’s a speed thing: “I think 11-man was more about who’s going to be bigger on the line and then trying to work around that. (Eight-player) is not so much who is bigger on the line, it’s who can get off the line quicker and find the hole faster. We’re not the biggest team, but we’re a very fast team. That definitely helps us out.”

Revved and rallying: “When you’re done with the game and you’re walking back to the stands, there’s a lot of people I’ve never met before. But they’re all congratulating us, and they seem really excited about it. They’re there. They don’t know us personally, but they’re excited for the football team and they want to tell us, ‘Good job.’ There’s a lot of people talking about coming up (for the Final).”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2018-19 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. 

Past 2018-19 honorees

November 8: Jon Dougherty, Detroit Country Day soccer - Read
November 1:
Jordan Stump, Camden-Frontier volleyball - Read
October 25:
Danielle Staskowski, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep golf - Read
October 18:
Adam Bruce, Gladstone cross country - Read
October 11: Ericka VanderLende, Rockford cross country - Read
October 4:
Kobe Clark, Schoolcraft football - Read
September 27: Jonathan Kliewer, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern soccer - Read
September 20: Kiera Lasky, Bronson volleyball - Read
September 13: Judy Rector, Hanover-Horton cross country - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Morrice quarterback Hunter Nowak (32) pulls away from a Colon defender during last week’s Semifinal win over the Magi. (Middle) Nowak and teammate Sam Koresky celebrate one of his touchdowns. (Photos courtesy of the Lansing State Journal.)

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.)