In 2017, not only did Beloit Memorial snap a 33-game conference losing streak, but the Purple Knights won three games for the first time since 2001. After some difficult, close losses last season, the goal for 2018 is clear: Make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
"I think these kids sort of saw that they can win," said fifth-year head coach Rodney Wedig, who led Big Foot to over 100 wins in his previous coaching stop, including a state title in 2009. "And, you hope success can lead to more success."
To turn around a program like Beloit Memorial, Wedig knew it would take time. "You have a plan, and it goes maybe five years," said Wedig, speaking of the rebuilding project he took on back in 2014. "Well, it's year five," he said, and added that the gains made last year are signs that the past few years' worth of lessons learned on the field (sometimes the hard way) are starting to pay off.
About half of the team's starters will return, but the spots where the team may lack experience are along the offensive line and defensive backfield, where the Purple Knights will be replacing three starters in each group. However, Wedig points out that most of the players stepping into bigger roles this year have had varsity experience.
That extends to the quarterback spot, which will see a possible time-share between senior Gannon Rand and junior Shelvin Garrett, Jr. With most skill positions back on offense and a wall of a front seven on defense, however, the team has some clear strengths to rely upon.
Of the four returning all-conference players, three of them are defensive starters. One of them, Matthew Wedig, is a starter on offense and is the team's punter and return man. Matthew is also Coach Wedig's son.
"It's funny, sometimes I have to watch film on us to actually see him play," said Wedig the coach about Wedig the player. "But it's great to see him make plays for us."
With 17 letterwinners among the group of seniors this season, Beloit Memorial is in a decent position in regards to returning players, since most teams in the Big 8 graduated large groups of their top contributors after 2018. Defensively, the strength should be the front seven, while on offense, getting the ball to their top playmakers will be critical.
It won't take long for the Purple Knights to see one of their Janesville rivals. They'll get Craig at home in Week 1 to kick things off. After heading to Sun Prairie on August 24, Beloit Memorial will host Madison La Follette and Madison East in back-to-back weeks.
Beloit will camp out along Gammon Rd. for three weeks, playing at Middleton, at Madison West, and at Madison Memorial for three straight weeks in September. Then, it's Homecoming against Verona before wrapping up the season with another home game, this time Janesville Parker as the Purple Knights bookend the season with the Janesville schools.
Here is The Big 1070's conversation with Rodney Wedig, the head coach of the Beloit Purple Knights:
Beloit Memorial Purple Knights - Big Eight
Head Coach: Rodney Wedig (5th Season), 4-34 Overall; 24th Career Season, 145-100 Overall (103-26 at Big Foot, 2009 D4 State Championship, 2008 and 2012 D4 Runners-Up, 7 Conference Titles; 38-40 at Almond-Bancroft)
2017 Result: 3-7 (2-7), 8th in the Big 8 (Defeated Racine Park 33-21 in a plus-one game)
Three-Year Record: 4-25 (2-0 in plus-one games)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 2 First-Team, 4 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (11 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 4 First-Team, 10 Second-Team, 15 Honorable Mention (29 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (4): WR/LB/P/ST Matthew Wedig [🏈 WSN] [🏈 WSN] (WFCA All-Region P in 2017, First Team-WR in 2016, First Team-LB in 2017 and 2016, First Team-P in 2017 and 2016, Honorable Mention-P in 2015), Sr.; DL Christian Winfield [🏈 WSN] (Second Team-DL), Sr.; RB/LB Eric Bridges (HM), Sr.; TE/LB Daryen Gaines (HM), Sr.;
Other Players To Watch: QB Gannon Rand, Sr.; S/WR Jaron Coleman, Sr.; WR Mason Chatmon, Sr.; WR Qwantrel Price, Sr.; WR Zequan Ulmer, Sr.; OL Devon McIntyre, Sr.; OL Jhalen Banks, Sr.; OL Ryan Caudel, Sr.; DT Jaylin Vance, Sr.; DL Kevin Griffen, Sr.; S Rodrigo Flores, Sr.; DB Terey Kilgore, Jr., Sr.; S Javier Bensen, Sr.; CB Christen Engel, Sr.; CB Chaz Garrett, Sr.; QB Shelvin Garrett, Jr., Jr.; OL Tyler Sirici, Jr.; RB/CB Radonis Smith, Jr.; FB/LB Isaiah Cosgrove, Jr.; LB Ne'Khi Jackson, Jr.; LB Alex Rohde, Jr.; OL Aiden Wright, So.
BIG Games: vs Janesville Craig, August 17; vs Madison East, September 7; vs Verona, October 5 (Homecoming); vs Janesville Parker, September 12