MILTON — After resigning as the Beloit Memorial football coach, Rodney Wedig didn’t have immediate plans to jump right back into the fire.
He originally planned to step back from coaching for at least a year. But then he became intrigued by the opening for a football coach at Milton.
He knew Milton had an excellent tradition in football and the Badger South Conference featured top-notch teams. He learned from his inquiries — including talking with Milton offensive line coach Jon Lyon — that the Red Hawks weren’t that far away from resuming their winning ways or competing for league titles.
So, he talked it over with his family, and threw his coaching hat into the pool of candidates. In February, Wedig was named Milton’s coach, replacing Matt Lee.
In his first season, Wedig has directed the Red Hawks to a 6-1 record. Milton is 4-1 and tied with Stoughton for first place in the Badger South, entering the Red Hawks’ game against Madison Edgewood on Friday night at Breese Stevens Field.
Milton won its first six games, including rallying for a 28-21 double-overtime victory over Stoughton, before losing to Monroe 34-28 last Friday.
“This is a good league. I am pleasantly surprised (how Milton has done),” Wedig said at practice earlier this week at Schilberg Park, across from the high school. “We have had a couple breaks here and there — sometimes a bounce of the ball. Against Stoughton, for a while there it looked like they were going to blow the doors off us. One or two plays and all of a sudden we were back in it.
“So, I am very pleasantly surprised. The kids have been very receptive. That’s half of it. The kids have bought into what we are trying to do. Just them being coachable and getting better each week have been helpful to us.”
Jerry Jones, a 5-foot-8, 190-pound senior running back and fullback, said Wedig and the coaching staff came in with “an urgency to win.”
“They preached family, staying together and executing,” said Jones, one of the team captains. “We spent a lot of time together. I think that helped a lot. We know each other so well. We are able to respond to each other during difficult situations, especially during games.”
Senior outside linebacker Kai Kerl agreed, saying the coaches are extremely involved.
“Even though it is their first year, we already are like a family,” said Kerl, also a team captain. “That helps when we have adversity, like late in games. We know how to respond to each other and the coaches know how to respond to us and make us get fired up.”
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At times in five seasons at Beloit Memorial, Wedig said he felt like he and his coaching staff had to use “smoke and mirrors” to scheme for Big Eight Conference opponents. He said he had a difficult time getting enough offensive linemen to play the style he wanted — power football like he used while coaching at Walworth Big Foot.
Wedig was 6-41 at Beloit Memorial after compiling a 103-26 mark from 2003-2013 at Big Foot, including winning the WIAA Division 4 state title in 2009 and finishing second in Division 4 in 2008 and 2012. Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick played for Wedig at Big Foot before playing at the University of Wisconsin.
“One of the selling points (at Milton) was it reminded me of Big Foot,” said Wedig, named the Green Bay Packers high school coach of the week after the Stoughton victory gave Milton its first 6-0 start since 2005. “We have some big guys, some strong kids. We aren’t the biggest and fastest team in the world. But we can play some power football.”
Seniors Nick Huber (608 yards rushing, 11 touchdowns) and Jerry Jones (411 yards rushing, eight touchdowns) and junior quarterback Evan Jordahl (386 yards rushing, one touchdown) lead the Red Hawks’ ground game, running behind a line that features 6-3, 270-pound senior Booker Burden and 6-3, 230-pound Joe Crofts.
“In Wisconsin, I’ve never been a guy who wants to throw it 40 times a game because you know in the playoffs there will be one of those games where it is raining, there is snow, wind, you name it,” said Wedig, 147-107 overall, including an eight-year stint at Almond-Bancroft.
Jordahl, who directs the multiple-formation offense, has thrown for 677 yards and 14 touchdowns. Senior Dane Nelson has been a primary target, averaging 23.1 yards per catch and scoring eight times.
“Jordahl has done a great job,” Wedig said. “A lot of our passing is set up by play-action. He’s pretty elusive, too. We have been pretty balanced, and we have some good receivers.”
Wedig’s son, Gus, is the Milton defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach after playing at Minnesota-Duluth (Rodney Wedig’s son Matthew is a freshman linebacker at Illinois State).
Milton runs a 3-4 scheme; junior linebacker Logan Knudsen and the 6-1, 180-pound Kerl lead in tackles.
After three consecutive 3-6 seasons under Lee, the Red Hawks again are in the mix for a conference title. Milton, led by coach Bill O’Leary, shared the Badger South title with Monona Grove in 2014 and 2015.
“We think we can do more,” Jones said. “We are really not surprised with what has happened this year. We expected this to happen. We expect to win.”