Performance: Detroit CC's Nick Jenkins

January 27, 2017

Nick Jenkins
Detroit Catholic Central senior – Wrestling

The reigning Division 1 champion at heavyweight, Jenkins has again made a heavy impact on the top-ranked Shamrocks’ near-perfect run this season. On Jan. 19, Detroit Catholic Central avenged back-to-back MHSAA Tournament losses to Davison with a 32-22 dual win, and Jenkins clinched the victory over the No. 2-ranked Cardinals with a 3-1 overtime victory against sophomore standout Aaron Gilmore to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

A relative newcomer to the sport entering high school, Jenkins has grown into one of the state’s best and moved to 28-1 this winter in the Shamrocks’ win over No. 5 Oxford on Wednesday. He’s top-ranked at his weight by, coming off last season’s Division 1 Individual Final when he edged Dearborn Heights Crestwood’s Ali Wahab 5-1 while handing Wahab (also the 2015 runner-up) his only loss of last season. Jenkins went on to finish sixth at the Flo Nationals in Pennsylvania last March to earn All-America recognition. His career record is 140-35, and DCC as a team is 21-1 this winter with its only loss to Ohio power Lakewood St. Edward.

Jenkins also started at center this fall for DCC’s football team that advanced to the Division 1 championship game and finished 13-1 with its only loss to Detroit Cass Tech in the Final. He earned all-Detroit Catholic League Central honors in that sport, but will stick to the mat at Central Michigan University. He carries a 3.2 grade-point average and is interested in studying either athletic training or criminal justice.

Coach Mitch Hancock said: “Nick is an exceptional young man who has a work ethic that is very rare in young kids today. He's respected greatly amongst his peers and faculty members here at CC due to his humility, character, and friendliness. Nick is a blue-collared, hardworking individual who prides himself on representing his family, school, and team with pride. He's a great leader and a fantastic individual who has led this team to great success." 

Performance Point: “As a team we knew it was a big match for seeding purposes at team states, and we want to get the one seed,” Jenkins said of the Davison match. “We thought we worked for it and we deserve it. Individually, I thought I’d perform better against (Gilmore), and I knew I had to get that win. I didn’t expect him to come out like he did; he surprised me a little bit. But I just kept my focus, tried to get my offense going a little more. I was passive the first two periods, but as the match progressed I started getting more aggressive, getting my leg attacks.”

Always in the title hunt: “We always expect to be great. We know how hard we work, how hard our coaches and staff work, and we expect to be in that position come February and March. We’re a little more unified this year. Losing two years in a row to Davison, that left a bad taste in guys’ mouths. We worked harder in the offseason, for sure.”

Starting from scratch: “I had about a month of wrestling in eighth grade. (But) I really wanted it, and my coaches don’t really let me take reps off. It’s either give everything you have, or don’t do it. Honestly, I’d heard (DCC wrestlers) win a lot, and I love to win, love to compete, and that was a big part of it for me. Around the middle of my sophomore year I saw guys like Myles (Amine), Trevor (Zdebski), how they kept advancing through the season and getting better although they were returning state champs. Everything clicked then. (They taught me) never stop getting better. You’ve got to keep going and going. Wrestling is a hard sport. You’re going to have ups and downs, but if you listen to what your coaches say and do the right things, you’ll have greatness in it.”

Learning to win: “(Success) is just kinda expected at CC. They don’t settle for anything less than giving your best, and if you give your best all the time you’re going to find success on and off the field. My brother (Jordan) went here before me, so I’d experienced that before and I had a solid mentality coming into CC. … (Hancock and football coach Tom Mach) really aren’t too much different. Both teams work hard; the coaches demand success of you. They preach the same messages: consistency, hard work and work ethic.”

Charting the future: “(I’m interested in) athletic training, to get to work in sports and be able to help people out. It’s always been something I liked. Criminal justice is just something I’ve liked since I was a kid … FBI, CIA, that kind of special agent stuff always intrigued me.” 

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2016-17 school year, Second Half and the Michigan 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. 

Previous 2016-17 honorees:
Jan. 19: Eileene Naniseni, Mancelona basketball Read
Jan. 12: Rory Anderson, Calumet hockey – Read
Dec. 15: Demetri Martin, Big Rapids basketball Read
Dec. 1: Rodney Hall, Detroit Cass Tech football Read
Nov. 24: Ally Cummings, Novi volleyball Read
Nov. 17: Chloe Idoni, Fenton volleyball Read
Nov. 10: Adelyn Ackley, Hart cross country Read
Nov. 3: Casey Kirkbride, Mattawan soccer – Read
Oct. 27: Colton Yesney, Negaunee cross country Read
Oct. 20: Varun Shanker, Midland Dow tennis Read
Oct. 13: Anne Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country – Read
Oct. 6: Shuaib Aljabaly, Coldwater cross country – Read
Sept. 29: Taylor Seaman, Brighton swimming & diving – Read
Sept. 22: Maggie Farrell, Battle Creek Lakeview cross country – Read
Sept. 15: Franki Strefling, Buchanan volleyball – Read
Sept. 8: Noah Jacobs, Corunna cross country – Read

PHOTOS: (Top) DCC's Nick Jenkins wrestles Crestwood's Ali Wahab during last season's Division 1 Final at heavyweight. (Middle) Jenkins salutes the crowd after claiming his first MHSAA individual championship. (Photos courtesy of Detroit Catholic Central 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.)