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Against all odds

2010 Big Foot Chiefs Schedule (HOME GAMES IN CAPS) Aug. 27 — at Harvard, Ill. Sept. 3 — DELAVAN-DARIEN. Sept. 10 — at Brodhead/Juda. Sept. 17 — at McFarland. Sept. 24 — CLINTON. Oct. 1 — BELOIT TURNER. Oct. 8 — at Parkview. Oct. 15 — EAST TROY. Oct. 21 — at Palmyra-Eagle.
August 25, 2010 | 08:39 AM
Walworth — With five first-team all Rock Valley Conference players gone from last year's Division 4 state championship squad, it seems an almost insurmountable task for the Big Foot football team to return to Madison for a third straight season.

Especially with losing Michael Walker, who ran for 255 yards a state-record five touchdowns in the 42-13 state victory over Kewaunee. Walker now plays for Division 2 St. Cloud State, but his younger brother Kenny, a junior, will be one of the main Chiefs both offensively and defensively this year.

Despite the fact that Kenny and little-used running back Jordan Gottman along with junior quarterback Jake Wedig will take over the skill positions, one very powerful and meaningful thing remains a constant.

Head coach Rodney Wedig is still the coach, and that is not a bad thing.

Where can one start with the eighth-year coach? How about the fact that Wedig has taken Big Foot to seven straight postseasons. Or the solid overall record of 62-20, an average of a nearly 9-3 record every year. Not to mention three straight Rock Valley championships. The moral of the story is that Wedig knows winning, and he can take any group on a long journey of success.

This year, Wedig is keeping his guys humble.

"I told the seniors that they haven't won anything yet," he said. "It's all about how they do this year, not how they've done in the past. We will miss the leadership of guys like Steve Dowden and Nate Nagel last year. But I told the seniors that it's their team and their time. Bad things will happen, but they have to rebound. However, success breeds success, and there is a lot of positive peer pressure around the school about winning and playing football."

Wedig will lean on returning starters Kyle Collins (center), David Horowitz (guard), Dean Smith (left tackle) and Jordan Gottman (fullback-linebacker) to anchor this year's squad. Gottman is the team's leading returning performer with 417 total yards and six touchdowns.

Offensively, Wedig said his son Jake will be a key to the offense. Also, Kenny Walker is a running and receiving threat, while senior receiver Mike Kunes will be the deep threat. Wedig is counting on heavy contributions defensively from junior linebacker Ian Vara.

Other defensive stalwarts should be Smith at defensive tackle, Garrett Cary, a 6-foot-4, 248-pound sophomore defensive tackle who started as a freshman, Gottman and Kenny Walker at cornerback.

The early returns are in thanks to the annual scrimmage at Kenosha Bradford Saturday. Even though the Red Devils reached the state semifinals in Division 1 last year and boast six Division 1 recruits including running back Melvin Gordon, who just signed for a full ride to the University of Iowa, Wedig was impressed with his team.

"Our defense looked very good against Bradford," Wedig said. "Aside from giving up two big plays, we shut them down the rest of the time. Our offense never got a chance to play them due to the rain. But we can move the ball offensively. We just need to find out what the new guys do best very quickly. We're running a lot of the same plays as last year. Jake is a good running threat along with Mason Dixon and Spencer Volbrecht. It will be a running back by committee."

Wedig said other key players will include junior free safety David Crump and senior left guard Luke Kahl. Cary will play both offensive and defensive line.

As far as the Rock Valley, Wedig said the conference is pretty solid top to bottom. Palmyra-Eagle returns the most starters and could surprise some people.

Big Foot will travel to Harvard, Ill., for its first tilt Friday night at 7 p.m.

"Harvard is a well-coached bunch," Wedig said. "A lot of them are wrestlers, too, so they're tough as nails. They are hard-hitting and physical. We can win the RVC, but we're not the favorites. We just want to keep getting better and prepare for the RVC season using our first two nonconference games. Harvard and Delavan-Darien are very tough teams."

All in the family

Juniors Jake Wedig and Kenny Walker have some big shoes to fill.

Dowden was the unquestionable leader of last year's team, and Mike Walker was one of the best running backs in the state.

Wedig is aware of the pressure of replacing Dowden and being the coach's son.

"There's a ton of pressure on me, but I'm trying to stay away from that," Jake said. "We haven't lost a game in conference in three years. I got some big shoes to fill, but I try to just do my thing. Steve (Dowden) has helped me out with some things. He told me not to worry about messing up but to just play the game. My dad has high expectations for me, but it is a good thing. But it's nice to go home and talk about the game or practice with him as much as I want. I like it having my dad there to guide me."

And with Kenny, he must follow Mike, who will undoubtedly go down as one of the best players in school history.

"There's no more fighting now that Mike's gone," Kenny joked. "So I don't know what to do anymore."

But it's clear what Kenny wants to do.

"I want to be better than Mike," he said. "I'm not going to worry about what he did, but what I do. Mike told me to work hard and keep my head straight."

Personally, Jake wants to win.

"I just want to get another banner up there in that gym for conference champs, maybe state again," he said. "We're definitely a running team. I can run and pass. And I just want to win."

With Kenny, he is bigger and stronger than last year, and the junior is ready to go.

"I think state is possible if we keep our minds in it," he said.

Jake agreed.

"We're flying under the radar," he said. "People think we can't do it because we lost so many guys. On the Internet and stuff, they don't think we can win. But I think we can handle it and we can win."

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