QB Follows Mentors in Leading Montague

October 4, 2017

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Sebastian Archer didn’t have to look far to find role models as Montague’s starting quarterback.

Pat Collins, Montague’s 14th-year head coach, was the quarterback who first brought the Wildcats to the promised land, culminating a dream season at the Pontiac Silverdome with a 12-7 loss to powerhouse Detroit dePorres in the 1992 Class CC championship game.

Cody Kater, now the Wildcats’ quarterbacks coach, took it a step further and led Montague to back-to-back Division 6 titles with wins over Leslie (41-20) in 2008 and Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (24-21) in 2009.

“I’m pretty lucky that I get to learn from both of them every day,” said Archer, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior who is off to an impressive start, following in the footsteps of recent Montague quarterbacks Jacob Buchberger and Dylan Stever. “They push me pretty hard, but I know it’s only to make me better.”

Archer will try to glean all he can from Collins and Kater this week, as the 6-0 Wildcats (ranked No. 3 in Division 6 by The Associated Press) prepare to host 5-1 Muskegon Oakridge (ranked No. 6 in Division 5) in a key battle for the West Michigan Conference championship and playoff seeding.

Montague has bolted to its 6-0 start behind one of the highest-scoring offenses in the state, averaging 57 points per game. Collins said the key for his team to stay unbeaten with a grueling final three games against Oakridge, Ravenna and then Montague’s first-ever meeting against unbeaten and four-time reigning Division 8 champion Muskegon Catholic Central, is for Archer to continue his dynamic play while taking care of the ball. Archer has thrown for 945 yards, 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

“Sebastian distributes the ball well and makes good decisions,” Collins said. “We anticipated having a good team this year and hoped to be in the position where we are right now, but this is where things get really tough and we’ll see what we’re made of.”

While Archer is continuing the Montague tradition of strong quarterback play, he is a completely different style of QB than his two mentors.

Collins engineered the tightly-packed, wing-T offense during his playing days, which usually meant about one or two passes per game.

Kater was more of a prototypical pocket passer, standing 6-4 and throwing 79 touchdown passes over his career. Kater played college quarterback at University of Cincinnati, Grand Rapids Community College and finally Central Michigan. He worked his way up to the starting job for the Chippewas as a junior, but broke his collarbone in the first quarter of CMU’s 2013 season-opening game against Michigan in “The Big House.”

Archer, meanwhile, is described by Collins as more of a “point guard” on the football field.

“He is definitely a dual threat,” Collins said. “Like a good point guard, he is capable of taking it into his own hands if need be. But first and foremost, he’s looking to get our other guys involved.”

That supporting cast, many like Archer part of Montague’s loaded junior class, has been stellar through the first two-thirds of the season.

Bryce Stark is explosive out of the backfield, rushing for 625 yards and 13 touchdowns this fall. Kenyan Johnston is the team’s most prolific receiver, highlighted by his nine catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns in a thrilling 46-44 win at rival Whitehall on Sept. 22. The main downfield threat is burner Jake Jancek.

For the past 40 years, the road to the WMC title has gone through Oakridge, a perennial playoff team which has qualified for the postseason 21 of the past 22 years and won MHSAA championships in 1997, 2005 and 2008. The main rival for Oakridge for many years, particularly the 1990s, was Ravenna, but since the turn of the century the biggest challenges have come from the White Lake area duo of Whitehall and, especially, Montague.

Montague edged Oakridge 29-26 two years ago and led 28-14 last year at Oakridge before the Eagles rallied for a 31-28 win.

Archer expects another classic game.

 “I can’t wait for Friday night,” said Archer, who, in addition to his quarterback duties, starts at safety and punter and hold on kicks. “It will probably be like the Whitehall game where the stands are full and people are sitting on the grass. Those are the games we love to play in.”

Part of the reason for the year-in, year-out success at Montague and Oakridge is coaching stability. Montague has had just two head coaches in the past 32 years, with Ken Diamond coaching from 1986-2003 and Collins from 2004 to present. Oakridge has had an even longer stretch with just two head coaches, led by Jack Schugars from 1979 to 2010 and now Harger from 2011 to present.

Montague has made the playoffs in 12 of 13 seasons under Collins, with the back-to-back championships in 2008 and 2009 capping an amazing stretch which saw the Wildcats make it at least to the Semifinals five straight years from 2005 to 2009.

Getting back to that elite level is what motivates Archer to come in to “Camp Kater” on Monday and Friday mornings before school. Kater emphasizes building up arm strength on Mondays, and switches the focus to pocket awareness on Fridays. Those sessions have transformed Archer from a running back playing quarterback to a well-rounded QB, Collins said.

Archer grew up idolizing Kater in small-town Montague, but he lists his favorite professional quarterbacks as Tom Brady and Doug Flutie, the 5-10 quarterback who was an inspiration to little guys everywhere. Flutie retired in 2005 when Archer was just 4 years old.

“The roster lists me as 5-9, but I’m 5-7; I’m not gonna lie to you,” said Archer, who also plays basketball and baseball for Montague. “I’ve watched old films of Flutie, and I love how he found a way to make things happen even though he was a little guy. That’s what I try to do.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Montague junior quarterback Sebastian Archer, a true dual-threat for the unbeaten Wildcats, looks for running room Sept. 22 during his team's 46-44 victory over rival Whitehall. (Middle) Archer tries to throw over 6-4 Whitehall defensive end Brandon Rake; Archer completed 14 of 20 passes for 217 yards, four TDs and no interceptions in the win. (Below) Montague coach Pat Collins played quarterback for the Wildcats in the early 1990s, leading them to the Class CC championship game in 1992. Collins, now in his 14th year, has a 121-38 record at Montague, highlighted by back-to-back MHSAA titles in 2008 and 2009. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)