QB Gives MCC New Look, Same Success

October 31, 2017

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Beating Muskegon Catholic Central in the playoffs was hard enough before Cameron Martinez came along.

Martinez, a 5-11, 180-pound, dual-threat sophomore quarterback, has added many new dimensions to the Crusaders’ offense – which had become synonymous around the state with ground-and-pound, power football.

“It’s pretty apparent that if we’re sitting in the T (formation) all the time, we’re not maximizing his abilities or our other guys’ abilities,” said fifth-year MCC coach Steve Czerwon, who has won a Division 8 championship in each of his first four seasons as the Crusaders’ head coach. “Cameron makes us coaches look good, too, because with him sometimes a bad play turns into a good play.”

MCC, which is 8-1 and ranked No. 1 in Division 8 by The Associated Press, goes on the road this week for a showdown with a familiar foe and another playoff powerhouse, Mendon (10-0 and ranked No. 3), in a MHSAA District championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Mendon fans will see a different MCC team than they have become accustomed to during the two schools’ seven prior meetings (MCC has won five) – a team that often operates with Martinez in the pistol formation, with just one running back, no tight ends and four receivers spread wide across the field.

The point man is Martinez, whose athletic ability was noticed by Central Michigan University two years ago as a 14-year-old eighth grader. His potential was so apparent that he was offered a scholarship at the conclusion of that camp, before he ever played a snap of high school football.

Last fall, he split time at quarterback with senior Trenton Bordeaux, and started to prove himself on the field as a quarterback, free safety and punt returner. Many other Division I schools are now following him as he is the unquestioned leader of this year’s Crusaders.

Martinez, who was born on the infamous day of Sept. 11, 2001, knows that college is still three years away. More immediate on his mind is the challenge of a 240-mile roundtrip journey to face a Mendon program which has amassed 10 MHSAA championships, the most recent in 2011. MCC has won 12 MHSAA titles during the playoff era.

“We’re all very excited,” said Martinez, whose older brother, Christian, guided MCC to Division 8 titles in 2014 and 2015 and now plays quarterback at Northwood University. “It’s a little bit of a trip, but I’ve always liked playing on the road. We know all about them and their tradition.”

Mendon will have to, first and foremost, contain Martinez if it wants to snap a three-game losing streak to the Crusaders.

The numbers tell the story: Martinez has rushed for 979 yards on 90 carries (10.9 yards per carry) and 15 TDs, more than double as many yards as MCC’s second-leading rusher, sophomore Tommy Watts (441 yards). Others sharing carries in the backfield-by-committee are juniors Dawson Steigman and Avery Davis and senior Riley St. Amour.

Martinez’ completion percentage is down considerably from a year ago, but he has still hit on 45 of 94 passes for 720 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. His primary targets are seniors Ryder Smith (14 catches) and Jackson Riegler (11 catches) and sophomore Nolan Convertini (10 catches).

Martinez & Company looked flat-out unbeatable and a mortal lock to complete the “Drive for Five” – and join East Grand Rapids and Farmington Hills Harrison as the only schools to win five titles in a row – until Montague rolled into Kehren Stadium on Oct. 20 for the first-ever meeting between the two schools.

Montague frustrated the Crusaders with a disciplined pass rush and stingy coverage, limiting Martinez to just 10 of 31 passing for 131 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, as MCC’s 27-game winning streak was snapped in a stunning 34-10 loss.

 “I put that loss on me,” said Martinez, who did rush for a team-high 80 yards in the defeat. “I need to react better and make better adjustments during games. All respect for Montague, they are a great team, but that game was a wake-up call for us.”

MCC bounced back with a 42-20 win over visiting Decatur last week, in a game that was much closer than many expected.

Now comes the big test against Mendon, which appears to be back to its old, powerful self after posting its first undefeated regular season since 2104.

 “This is a classic Mendon football team,” said Czerwon, who is 2-0 against the Hornets as a head coach, posting playoff wins in 2013 and 2014. “They are a power team that wants to run downhill on you. They make very few mistakes and rarely have a negative-yardage play.”

Mendon, champions of the Southwest 10 Conference, are led by quarterback Cole Decker and running backs Wyatt Cool and Austin Rensi. Bobby Kretschman, a former standout player and 10-year assistant coach for the Hornets, is in his second year as head coach after taking over from legend John Schwartz.

MCC will use many different formations, all directed by Martinez, in an attempt to move the ball against a Mendon defense which has six shutouts in its first 10 games.

“We are very diverse, which is what I like about this team,” said Martinez. “Our coaches come up with a lot of different schemes for every game. We just have to go out and execute it.”

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) Muskegon Catholic Central’s Cameron Martinez, a 5-11, 180-pound sophomore, surveys the field while awaiting the snap from center Owen Linstrom during the Crusaders' 42-20 victory over visiting Decatur in last week's Division 8 Pre-District game. (Middle) Martinez goes airborne for an incredible interception from his free safety position during the Crusaders' 31-6 victory at Frankfort on Sept. 1. (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.)