Beloit Memorial Purple Knights - Big Eight
Coach: Rodney Wedig (4th Season), 1-27 Overall; 23rd Career Season, 142-93 Overall (103-26 at Big Foot, 2009 D4 State Championship; 38-40 at Almond-Bancroft)
2016 Result: 1-9 (0-9), 10th in the Big 8 (Defeated Racine Case 30-26 in a plus-one game)
Three-Year Record: 1-27
2016 All-Conference Honors: 2 First-Team, 3 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (10 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 2 First-Team, 7 Second-Team, 15 Honorable Mention (24 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (3): TE-WR/LB/P/RET Matthew Wedig (First Team-WR) (First Team-P) (Honorable Mention-P in 2015), Jr.; OL/DL Angel Zuniga (Honorable Mention-OL/DL), Sr.; WR/DB/K/RET Casper Clark (Honorable Mention-DB in 2015), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: RB Kyle Hereford Jr., Sr.; LB Linzell Burks, Sr.; TE/DL Amaurii Grosskopf, Sr.; OL/DL Chris Goodwin, Sr.; DL Antonio Hernandez, Sr.; OL Zach Christensen, Sr.; OL Max Sage, Sr.; DL Austin Polzin, Sr.; LB Nik Carpenter, Sr.; LB Cade Whalen, Sr.; LB Shane Eubanks, Sr.; QB Curtis Luther, Sr.; DB Fa'Tavion Hughes, Sr.; DL John Rodriquez, Sr.; DB Taylor Schumitsch, Sr.; TE/LB Daryen Gaines, Jr.; QB Gannon Rand, Jr.; RB/LB Eric Bridges, Jr.; WR Qwantrel Price, Jr.; DL Christian Winfield, Jr.; DL Kevin Griffen, Jr.; QB Shelvin Garrett Jr., So.
BIG Games: vs Verona August 25, vs Sun Prairie September 15, vs Janesville Craig September 22, vs Janesville Parker September 28, at Middleton October 6
"Looking around today I realized we will have people not starting that would have been some of my best players year 1."
So read the tweet from the Beloit Memorial Purple Knights' Twitter account on July 18, an indication of how far the program has come in now the fourth year under veteran coach Rodney Wedig.
"We have to get over the mental hurdles of not winning. This will be the most talented team I have had here in four years, but we still need to put in all together in hopes to get out of the Big 8 basement." - Beloit Memorial Purple Knights Football Coach Rodney Wedig
"I have spent three years trying to get things in place and now they are, so we have to be competitive in the Big 8," said Wedig, a father of five whose son, Matthew, is one of the key returning players to the Purple Knights for the upcoming season, and another, Jacob, is an assistant on the current Purple Knights staff. "The future is now."
Wedig, who coached Big Foot to a Division 4 state championship in 2009 and reached state with the Chiefs in 2008 and 2012, knows that the Memorial program has struggled in recent years, citing only eleven wins this century as a statistical measure of what 'struggled' entails, but he said that his outgoing seniors helped lay a foundation for this year's team to follow.
"While the seniors last year did not win a conference game, they helped establish a culture of accountability and progress," said Wedig. "They were all very good young men, and it was good to get that win in the 10th game for them. It was very positive."
That plus-one game, a 30-26 win over Racine Park, snapped a losing streak of 30 games for the Purple Knights, dating back to 2013.
For a coach who has a record of 142 and 93, which stood at 141 and 66 prior to his time at Beloit Memorial, Wedig remains optimistic and confident in his team's ability to compete in 2017.
"The talent pool has remained constant," said Wedig, noting the success of multi-sport athletes at the school, some of whom were members of the state-qualifying baseball team this past spring. "But we have kept kids out, and and we have more players in the lifting and agility programs, so we will be stronger and faster than in the years past."
Coach Wedig's style of football is known to anyone who followed his success with the Big Foot program over the years, or even dating all the way back to his first head coaching job at Almond-Bancroft. Now entering his 23rd year as a head coach, not much has changed for Wedig: "We are going to play tough, physical defense, and we are going to run the ball."
Being that it is his fourth year with the program, Coach Wedig said he believes that the players know what he's all about at this point. "The seniors have been with me since [they were] freshmen, so they are all on board and understand what we are trying to do," said Wedig, who also noted that the JV team competed in every game, going 4-5 and only lost once by more than one score. "I expect a lot of those athletes to contribute at the varsity level this year."
"Numbers are good top to bottom as we continue to build," continued Wedig, seeking his first win in the Big 8. "We are stronger than we have been in years past due to better commitment in the weight room."
Wedig's offense will be trying to replace a three-year starting quarterback this season, and three different players are contending for the job in camp under the tutelage of quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Brad Dement, who is also a quarterback for the semi-pro Rockton Rush football team.
"I like the improvement we've made this year," Dement said before one of the Rush's football games earlier this season. Dement leads Rockton's league, the MSFL, in most passing categories, and calls his own plays in the Rush's explosive spread offense. "Being able to play the game each week, I can help out the guys a bit with what I see out there."
The Purple Knights run a pro-style offense, and Matthew Wedig, first-team all-conference a season ago at wide receiver, will primarily play tight end this season as a junior. The trio of quarterbacks competing to lead the offense are senior Curtis Luther, junior Gannon Rand, and sophomore Shelvin Garrett, Jr. The three passers combined for 18 pass attempts in 2016.
In the backfield, senior Kyle Hereford, Jr. is back as the team's second-leading rusher from a year ago after a few touches as a sophomore in 2015, but fullback and depth at running back will be tested. Junior Eric Bridges is a key newcomer to the Purple Knights, said Coach Wedig.
Along with Wedig, senior Casper Clark figures to be a larger part of the equation in the receiving game after missing most of last season due to injury. Only one other returning player, senior Antonio White, caught a pass last year other than Kyle Hereford, Jr., who will play running back this season. Coach Wedig says new additions junior Qwantrel Price at receiver and junior Daryen Gaines at tight end will be key in their roles.
The offensive line will be led by a trio of seniors, honorable mention all-conference pick Angel Zuniga, Zach Christensen, and Max Sage. Senior Chris Goodwin, a letterwinner in 2016, also adds depth to the front line.
Defense is Coach Wedig's bread and butter, and his front line in his preferred 3-4 defense will feature senior Amaurii Grosskopf, who Wedig said "came on at the end of last year, and will anchor the defensive front." Other notable defensive linemen include seniors Antonio Hernandez and John Rodriquez and junior newcomers Christian Winfield and Kevin Griffen.
Linebackers are a critical part of the success of the team, and Wedig brings back seniors Nik Carpenter and Linzell Brooks, both of whom Wedig said have 'improved significantly.' Matthew Wedig will be an addition of sorts to the linebacker group; he was limited by injuries last season, but is expected to line up on the outside for his junior season. Daryen Gaines led the JV team in tackles a year ago, and he joins Wedig in the junior class representing at the second level. Other letterwinners from the position include seniors Cade Whalen and Shane Eubanks.
On the back end of the defense, senior Casper Clark will return from injury at the safety position, where he was honorable mention all-conference as a sophomore in 2015. Seniors Fa'Tavion Hughes and Taylor Schumitsch also return to the secondary.
Special teams will feature two-time all-conference pick Matthew Wedig at punter, and a return to the kicker position for Casper Clark, who went 9-for-9 on extra point tries in 2016 before his injury. Clark and Wedig have each fielded kicks and punts on returns in the past two seasons as well.
Beloit Memorial opens the season with three straight games against 2016 playoff squads. First up is a road test at Madison West. The Regents lost a good deal of talent from their playoff run a year ago, but still figure to present a big challenge to anyone in the Big 8. Last year, it was a 27-14 win for West over the Purple Knights.
Their home opener is against conference favorite Verona, who shared the conference crown with Sun Prairie last season in the Big 8. Beloit Memorial then ships off to Lussier Stadium to battle La Follette, another Madison city school that made the playoffs last year that suffered big graduation losses.
After a home game against Madison East on September 8, the Purple Knights will play three straight home games. First up, it's Sun Prairie, another defending conference champion and the team that beat Beloit Memorial by the most last season, 42-0. Then, both Janesville schools, Craig and Parker, make the short trip to Jacobson Field to wrap up September.
Two big road games close out the season for Beloit Memorial. First, the Purple Knights visit Middleton on their homecoming, before wrapping up the regular season against what should be a better Madison Memorial squad than a season ago, when they went 3-6. The Spartans shut out Beloit Memorial 38-0 last October.
While Beloit Memorial projects to be in the bottom half of the conference again according to most coaches within the Big 8, Coach Wedig said that even with all the weight room work and speed training, it may not be the physical aspect that is the key to winning games. "We have to get over the mental hurdles of not winning," said Wedig. "This will be the most talented team I have had here in four years, but we still need to put in all together in hopes to get out of the Big 8 basement."
--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska