Restarted Fall Becomes Madison Dream Season

October 30, 2020

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half 

ADRIAN – It’s always fun to be first. 

Tonight, when the Division 6 football game between Adrian Madison and Quincy ends, one of the two teams will walk off the field by enjoying its first-ever playoff win.  

For the Madison Trojans, it’s been a dream season. As they get set to host their first playoff game in school history, however, the team isn’t just resting on its 5-1 record and best season since 1974. 

“We’re certainly not just happy being in the playoffs,” said head coach Taz Wallace. “We’re going to enjoy it, but it’s time to get to work.” 

Madison is making just its third football playoff trip ever, and first since 2009. But the school certainly is familiar with athletic success, across a variety of sports.

The track & field teams both have long Tri-County Conference winning streaks. In fact, the current senior class of boys was in grade school the last time Madison wasn’t the TCC track champion. The boys basketball team won three league titles between 2013 and 2016 and contended almost every year since. The volleyball team won its fifth-straight league title this fall. The golf teams have won multiple titles. Madison’s girls basketball team is the perennial league favorite having won eight titles over the last nine seasons. 

Football success, however, has eluded the school. The last winning record for the Trojans was 6-4 by that 2009 playoff team. They’ve sent multiple players into the college ranks the last couple of years, but a winning record on the field just hasn’t been in the cards. 

Until now. 

This year, something is different. Wallace says the Trojans are playing for each other like never before. 

“They’ve always had the ability,” Wallace said. “The difference is they believe in themselves. They hold each other accountable.” 

The season started when Madison beat Ottawa Lake Whiteford, a Division 8 powerhouse in recent years. Madison won 42-24, breaking a string of losses against the Bobcats that dated back to 1980. It was a monumental win for the program. 

“It was huge for our kids,” Wallace said. “To go out and win that game started all of it. In that moment, our kids realized they could play at that level.” 

Although Madison lost in Week 2 to still-undefeated Erie Mason, the Trojans have won four straight games since to finish 5-1 and earn the No. 3 seed in their Division 6 District.  

“For us, it doesn’t change,” said Wallace. “It’s about our kids and how we execute. We need to keep getting better.” 

Madison’s done it this season with a superior ground game. Three Madison backs have run for at least 200 yards in a game. Rovahn Roberts is averaging an amazing 23.5 yards per carry with 446 yards in just 19 attempts. Dante Cerasuolo was leading Lenawee County in rushing at one point before hurting his foot. Now, Isiah Casarez-Ruiz leads the team in rushing and is second in the county. 

Sophomore center Xavier Soss, senior guard Robert Gauna and senior tackle Davion Wheeler have led the Trojans up front.  

“Davion is our energy guy,” Wallace said. “He plays with great emotion. They all feed off each other.” 

End Marcel Theriot, linebacker Vince Williams and the electric Roberts lead the Trojans on the defensive side of the ball.  

Wallace is a Madison graduate, having moved to Adrian from Tuscaloosa, Ala., while in high school. He was a multi-sport athlete at Madison and went to Adrian College, where he grew into an All-American linebacker. After four outstanding seasons with the Bulldogs, he earned a tryout with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted rookie free agent and survived several cuts before ultimately his NFL dream ended. 

He is the student success coach at Madison and in his ninth season as varsity football coach. In August, Wallace announced he was stepping down as head coach saying he felt it was just time. When the MHSAA announced football was going to re-start in September, school officials went to Wallace and asked that he stay on for the season. 

This season, the hard work has paid off and Wallace has Madison on the brink of its best-ever finish. 

“It’s never been about me,” Wallace said. “I love all of these kids. It’s about them. As soon as I was back, it was all-in. There’s no other way to approach it. 

“I love our kids like they are my own. Once I came back, I gave these kids everything I had. There’s no other way to do it. I love these kids. They deserve the best.” 

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Adrian Madison coach Taz Wallace, far left, confers with Ryan Fisher (58) and Mario Garcia (27). (Middle) Wallace this fall has led the Trojans to their best football season in more than a decade. (Photos by Mike Dickie.)

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.)