Rodney Wedig has had his fair share of special seasons. The first-year football coach at Milton has taken multiple teams to the Wisconsin State Football Championships and even led Big Foot to a WIAA state title in 2009.
Although his first season with the Red Hawks didn’t end with a gold ball or a trip to state, it was a season to remember.
Milton finished with a 9-2 record, earned a share of the Badger South Conference title and advanced to the second-round of the WIAA Division 2 playoffs. The Red Hawks’ nine wins matched the three previous seasons combined (9-18).
“It was unbelievable,” Wedig said. “We exceeded my expectations. The group of seniors we had were hungry for success. They soaked up everything we taught them and bought into the whole system.”
It took a few big wins for Wedig to fully realize he had something special cooking in Milton. He called the 40-0 win over Mount Horeb/Barneveld a statement game and also highlighted the victory over two-time defending Badger South Champions, Monona Grove.
“I realized that these kids were special when we went to Monona Grove and beat them,” Wedig said.
The win over the Silver Eagles put Milton at 4-0 on the season and setup a matchup with Oregon. The Panthers led by a touchdown at the end of the first quarter, but the Red Hawks rallied to win, 47-26. A week later Milton clawed back from a 14-0 deficit at halftime to beat Stoughton on the road in double overtime, 28-21.
“The win at Stoughton, that was something special,” Wedig said. “Then I knew we could go anywhere and these kids aren’t going to back down from anyone.”
And that was one of the Red Hawks’ goals this season — to not be afraid of the top dogs in the conference.
There was maybe no more daunting task for the Red Hawks than their Level 2 playoff game at Waunakee.
The Red Hawks came out not backing down from the challenge, earning a 21-7 advantage, but the Warriors eventually won the game, 35-28.
“You have to go in there and not back down from anyone,” Wedig said. “The mental game is important to these kids. If you come in, and don’t expect to win, I don’t care what your game plan is, you’re not going to. That last game, I really think we caught Waunakee off guard. I think they thought they were going to have an easy time beating us.”
The Milton seniors leave a permanent mark on the football program. Eight seniors made the Badger South’s first or second teams, and senior Kai Kerl was named Co-Defensive Lineman of the Year, sharing the honor with Stoughton’s Brooks Empey.
“My style is I put a lot of pressure on the seniors,” Wedig said. “I say, ‘this is your team. This is how you’re going to be remembered. When you graduate, I’m still going to be here.’ I try to preach leadership, not just because of the football season, but I think it’s one of those things that when you graduate, that leadership is something that will carry on with them with whatever they do.”
Despite losing a talented senior class, the future still looks bright for Milton. Junior Luke Hessenauer was a first-team conference selection on defense. Junior quarterback Evan Jordahl was a second-team member on offense, while junior linebacker Logan Knudsen was a second-team selection on defense.
“The junior class I’m pretty confident in. I think the sophomores are a pretty talented group, but they have to understand that there is going to be a lot of expectations with them now.”