Shores' QB Stands Tall During 2-0 Start

September 6, 2017

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Muskegon Mona Shores certainly has a scary offense, with Division I college receiving prospects on the edges, two powerful running backs and a much-improved offensive line.

If only the Sailors had a taller quarterback.

If seventh-year Mona Shores coach Matt Koziak had a nickel for every time he’s heard some variation of that statement, he’d be an extremely wealthy man.

“People who say things like that don’t know Tristan Robbins,” Koziak said of his 5-foot-10, 173-pound senior quarterback in his second year as the starter. “He is tough, he is fearless and he is a leader – the guys rally around him. We are very happy with our quarterback.”

Robbins has come up big in two impressive wins – completing 7 of 11 passes for 137 yards and rushing for another 47 yards in a 41-23 win over Canton at the University of Michigan on Aug. 26, then turning around and completing 7 of 13 passes for 129 yards, with 90 yards rushing, in a come-from-behind, 42-20 win at Zeeland West last week.

Robbins has the chance to prove the doubters wrong again this Friday, in the first of two blockbuster home games on the Mona Shores schedule this fall.

Rockford, the perennial Ottawa-Kent Conference Red powerhouse, comes to the lakeshore this week, led by 6-5 senior quarterback Jason Whittaker, who has committed to continue his career at Northwestern University. On Oct. 13, the Sailors welcome cross-town rival Muskegon, the winningest program in state history, which features a Division I quarterback of its own in 6-2 senior La’darius Jefferson, who has verbally committed to sign with Central Florida.

Robbins is ready to rise to the challenge.

“I just go out there and do what I can with what I’ve been given,” said Robbins, the middle child and only son of Brent and Jane Robbins. “Our offense has been doing great so far. Now we get a home game and it should be a huge crowd, and that will just add to the excitement.”

Robbins was thrust into the starting role in last year’s opening game as a junior after senior starter Drew Switzer broke his collarbone in the preseason scrimmage. Robbins threw four interceptions as the Sailors struggled to a 1-3 start, which ultimately kept them out of the playoffs for the first time in three years. But since that rough beginning, Robbins has thrown 13 TD passes without a single interception, leading Shores to six wins in its last seven games.

“He has grown more and more comfortable in his role,” explains Koziak, who led Shores to the Division 2 championship game in 2015. “We rely on our quarterbacks to make a lot of reads, before the play and during the play, and he’s done a great job.”

Robbins follows in the footsteps of two standout, pro-style quarterbacks in Tyree Jackson (6-7), who is now the starting quarterback at the University of Buffalo, and Tyler Trovinger (6-1), the starting shortstop on the Oakland University baseball team.

Koziak said Robbins makes up for his lack of size with a series of intangibles.

•  First, Robbins is a 4.0 student whose intelligence pays dividends in a complicated offense.

Lining up almost exclusively in the pistol formation, Robbins triggers an offense which features a pair of Division I prospects at wideout in junior Damari Roberson (6-2, 190) and senior Keyshawn Summerville (6-0, 175). Charles Allen and Ke’Sean Sandifer are dangerous in the slot and senior Dee Davis and junior Sincere Dent have been a potent 1-2 punch in the backfield.

Who gets the ball on any given play depends largely on the position of the defense, explains Koziak, and the responsibility of reading the defense falls largely on Robbins.

•  Second, he possesses incredible leadership skills.

Understand that Robbins is far from a prima donna quarterback; he’s a wrestler in the winter and played rugby for the first time last spring (“I loved it,” Robbins explained). He regularly inspires his teammates by lowering his shoulder and “laying it out” for his team.

•  Third, and perhaps most importantly, what he lacks in size and/or pure athletic ability, he makes up for in an underrated category: grit.

Robbins’ true grit was on display at a critical moment of the Sailors’ victory at Zeeland West on Friday. Holding a slim 21-20 lead midway through the third quarter, Shores faced a crucial 4th-and-4 situation at the Zeeland West 16-yard line. After a timeout, Shores ran its outside veer, where Robbins had the ball with the choice of handing off to Dent, pitching wide to Allen or keeping it himself.

“The linebacker went right for (Dent) and I saw a little room and thought I could get it, so I kept it myself,” explained Robbins. “I was able to get around the corner and make it to the end zone.”

After opening the season with a 340-mile roundtrip to Ann Arbor and 88 miles back-and-forth to Zeeland last Friday, the unbeaten Sailors are expecting a packed house for their showdown with Rockford. This will be the fourth straight season the teams have played; the Rams hold a 2-1 edge in the recent series and won last year 37-23.

Adding to the excitement (and certainly the crowd size), Friday’s game will be the second “Sailor Salute” – a massive tribute to all of those who serve the country and their communities, complete with military responder vehicles, a U.S. Army Lakota Helicopter, 300 motorcycles, elementary students singing the national anthem on the field and even a pre-game performance by a U.S. Army rock band.

Robbins can’t wait to do his “small” part on what could be another huge night for the new-look Mona Shores football program, which made the playoffs for the first time since 2013 but has returned twice and posted four straight winning seasons.

“We do so much work and so much conditioning when no one else is around, which is no fun while you’re doing it, but it pays off on Friday nights,” said Robbins. “I can’t wait for Friday night.”

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 Mona Shores quarterback Tristan Robbins finds a crease during his team’s Week 1 win over Canton. (Middle) Robbins drops back to pass during that victory. (Photos courtesy of Muskegon Mona Shores High School.)

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.)