BELOIT - Casper Clark, Amaurii Grosskopf and Angel Zuniga agree they helped change the culture of Beloit Memorial football and by the time they were seniors they had won the respect of their opponents in the Big Eight Conference.
Apparently their efforts weren't being ignore elsewhere.
On National Signing Day Wednesday, the trio made it official at a ceremony in the Barkin Arena, with each Knight announcing where he is headed to play college football.
For Grosskopf, a powerful defensive end for the Purple Knights, it will be the University of Sioux Falls Cougars, an NCAA Division II power in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. For Clark, a do-it-all safety, UW-Eau Claire in the WIAC will be his next stop and center Zuniga will play in the Midwest Conference for Ripon College.
"When we started playing (for BMHS) there was no leadership," said Clark. "By the time we were seniors we had changed that. We really did change the culture. We got a lot better and it was a blast playing for the team this apst season.
The Knights not only won three games in 2017 after going 1-27 the previous three seasons, they were competitive in most of their Big Eight contests.
"It's really neat to see this," Beloit head coach Rodney Wedig said. "A lot of people want to play college sports, but very few people understand the work it takes. You don't just show up for the season and expect to get a scholarship or play in college. These kids bought in to the amount of work year-round that it takes. They did what they needed to do to get them to the next level."
Grosskopf said he hopes future Knights follow their lead.
"I didn't really do all the hard work just for myself," he said. "I wanted to do it for Beloit football and hopefully give other kids a reason to try hard, too. Hopefully, if they're willing to put in the work in the weight room they'll do even better than we did."
Wedig is quite familiar with the conference Grosskopf will play in. His son Gus plays for Minnesota-Duluth in the same league.
"It's probably the best Division II conference in the nation," Wedig said. "Amaurri really came on at the end of his junior year and became a leader his senior year. Sioux Falls believes he has tons of potential and will be a difference-maker for them."
USF finished 9-3 last season and earned a third consecutive NCAA DII playoff appearance. The Cougars were ranked No. 20 in the AFCA Coaches Poll and have recorded an NCAA DII-best 24 straight winning seasons. USF recorded nine wins or more for a fourth straight year and the fifth time in six seasons at NCAA DII.
An All-Big Eight First Teamer, Grosskopf said he was recruited by other colleges, including several in Sioux Falls' league. But he admired the Cougars persistence.
"Sioux Falls really showed they cared and I got a half-ride scholarship," Grosskopf said. "It was decent enough so that I could afford to go there. The campus is beautiful and the stadium is amazing."
Wedig said UW-Eau Claire should be a good fit for Casper.
"As we sit down as coaches and consider who you have to replace a player, we're really going to need at least three people to replace Casper," Wedig said. "Clark kicked, return kicks, played wide receiver, played safety and threw four touchdown passes. I was a little upset at the All-Big Eight meeting. Sometimes because we're not up there with Middleton our players don't get the respect they deserve. When Casper was not voted First Team (he was a Second-Teamer like Zuniga), I did not make a whole lot of friends when I explained my displeasure to them. Casper literally did it all for us. I'm excited to see him continue his career at Eau Claire."
Clark is actually excited about being able to specialize on defense. He led the Purple Knights in tackles with 83, forced one fumble and picked off a team-best four passes.
"It was a lot of fun in high school, but it will be good for me to focus on just safety or maybe safety and some kick returns in college," he said. "I want to put all my energy into that. They'll graduate seven defensive backs which is good news for me. I can't just walk in and expect to take a starting spot. I've got to go in and earn it."
Wedig said Zuniga has been the offensive line's anchor since he was promoted to the varsity midway through his freshman year.
"He is going to be a tremendously difficult player to replace not just because of his skill, but also that leadership," the coach sid. "The Ripon coaches are very high on him and I think he'll have a great career there."
Zuniga said interest from the Red Hawks was the difference in his decision to attend Ripon and major in Biology and Environmental Science.
"Toward the end of my junior year they were one of the few schools interested in me," Zuniga said. "As someone who didn't expect to have anyone looking at me, that really stood out. Ripon continued that communication process steadily and made me feel sort of special."
Wedig also offered the college recruits a bit of advice.
"Survive that freshman year," he said. "It's going to be difficult work. You have to take care of academics. They love you when they are recruiting you, but they're not always so kind once you're on the team. I don't think they'll have problems. I'm proud of these guys. They'll do a good job representing Beloit."
Athletic Director Joel Beard told underclassmen attending the signing ceremony to pay attention.
"Coach zWeig and I have been talking lately about getting kids ready for this moment," Beard said. "Seniors are moving on, but the juniors, sophomores and freshmen we want to educate what it takes to get to this process. There is a lot of work academically. We have to make sure you have all your core courses and the right GPA and ACT."
Zuniga said he and his friends came a long way to get to Thursday.
"There were some struggles, but nothing comes easy," he said. "We worked hard and it's all good."
• NOTES: Wedig said there are other seniors who haven't decided where yet, but will likely play college football, including linebacker Nik Carpenter.