BELOIT — During his youth football days in Walworth, Matthew Wedig admits, he was a chubby kid.
Weight guidelines forced him to play the offensive line because he was ruled too heavy to carry the football. Then came an eight-inch growth spurt,which began the summer prior to eighth grade, and Wedig suddenly transformed into a 6-foot-4 basketball prospect.
“In eighth grade, basketball was his thing,” said Beloit Memorial football coach Rodney Wedig, Matthew’s father. “But once he got to high school and he got a taste of football, he’s really enjoyed it and he’s worked hard to continue in it.”
Matthew Wedig, a 6-4, 220-pound senior, has developed into one of the Big Eight Conference’s top players and one of the state’s most versatile athletes — a player who rarely leaves the field for the Purple Knights.
He’s receiving college interest for his ability to play outside linebacker, tight end or receiver and to punt and long snap on extra points.
As a freshman on the varsity, Wedig first saw action punting and long snapping, and then playing defense. By the time his junior season ended last year, he was a first-team Big Eight all-conference selection as a punter and linebacker. He averaged 39.3 yards on punts (earning Associated Press second-team all-state honors) and totaled three defensive touchdowns, while also leading Beloit Memorial with five touchdown receptions.
“(The coaches) just threw me into the water and hoped I could swim,” Wedig said. “I am grateful they have tossed me into the fire. Freshman year, they just threw me out there and said, `Do whatever you have to do.’ My first career play on defense on varsity was a sack.”
He begins this season eager for the Beloit Memorial program to continue showing strides after winning three games last season — the most since 2001 — and breaking a 33-game losing streak in Big Eight games.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs and host a playoff game,” Wedig said. “This is the best team I’ve been on, as far as the brotherhood aspect. All of us are super close. We all hang out outside of football. We are all really motivated.”
Rodney Wedig believes the Purple Knights, who haven’t reached the postseason since 1999, are ready to make some noise in his fifth season.
They lack depth but have a good nucleus, with some top-end talent in Matthew Wedig, defensive end Christian Winfield, linebacker Daryen Gaines and running back Eric Bridges, the coach said. Janesville Craig coach Adam Bunderson said Beloit Memorial should be the league’s most improved team.
“Originally, I was hoping we’d have a little quicker progress, but we were so far behind everybody my first year,” said Rodney Wedig, who led Walworth Big Foot to the WIAA Division 4 state football title in 2009. “Five years — this was the target. We need to be successful this year. I think we need to make the playoffs. I really do. It’s going to be tough.”
The state title earned at Big Foot taught Wedig what it takes to make it to the top.
“It’s a lot of talent, a lot of hard work and a lucky bounce here and there,” said Wedig, who plans to follow Madison West’s model of using his best players on both offense and defense.
Wedig can gain comfort knowing his son, who has put on 30 solid pounds since December through conditioning and weight-room work, should be a constant on the field.
“He’s the youngest of the family,” coach Wedig said. “He knows football because he has been around it his entire life. One of the things that stands out, in my mind, defensively, is his play recognition and understanding the game plan. Offensively, he will be a tough matchup for anybody because he is fast enough where we can split him out or he can be a hand-in-the-dirt traditional tight end.”
Matthew Wedig’s ability to play multiple positions has led to interest from colleges with specific position needs. He said he’s had interest from about 13 universities, including offers from the U.S. Naval Academy, South Dakota State, North Dakota and Eastern Michigan. He attended a University of Wisconsin camp this summer and recently toured Eastern Michigan and Northern Iowa.
He’s excited about potential college opportunities, but he said his attention now is on Beloit Memorial’s bid to make the playoffs for the first time in 19 years and even challenging for a top spot in the conference, led by a strong defensive front seven.
“I’m super excited for this year," Matthew Wedig said. "It would be super cool to be the start of something big."