Ed Meierkort didn’t want Wesley Beschorner to be South Dakota’s starting quarterback when the former UW-Stout head man walked on campus.
Winning with a 5-foot-10 Iowa farmboy seemed unrealistic to Meierkort, who left Menomonie to coach the Coyotes in 2004. But Beschorner worked hard, earned the respect of his teammates and, ultimately, changed his coach’s mind completely.
“I was so ungodly wrong,” Meierkort said. “He overcomes.”
Beschorner rewrote the record books, setting 33 school bests while leading South Dakota to a North Central Conference title, earning first-team All-American honors and a finalist selection for the Harlan Hill Award, given to DII’s top player. Meierkort said one season Beschorner had more touchdowns than incompletions at Week 7. In 2017, he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.
Meierkort emphasized that this is Beschorner’s background, not the flashy lights you’d expect from a coach whose last three stops were at Football Bowl Subdivision schools: Pitt, Rice and Maryland. He was a kid with a chip on his shoulder who worked his way up the South Dakota depth chart from scout QB to one of the best players DII had to offer.
“Everyone thinks he’s a Division I guy all the way,” Meierkort said. “That’s not true. ... His heart and values are perfect for a place like UW-Eau Claire.”
This afternoon, Blugolds faithful gets to finally see what the former signal caller can really bring to the table when the season kicks off at Carson Park. He, and his players, are ready to move on from the past and toward what they hope is a new positive era of UW-Eau Claire football.
“I think coach is focused on us right now, and I think we’re focused on that too,” defensive back Cam Swanson said. “I don’t really think we’re thinking about his past or anything. We’re thinking more about the future and mostly about the present.”
Beschorner’s debut is the culmination of more than half a year of internal preparation and external intrigue. It’s the first chance for him to work in his new schemes and for the Blugolds to kick off their attempt to build off a 2018 season that saw progress for the program. The team’s four wins was the highest total since 2012 and its sixth place finish in the WIAC was the highest since 2013.
“I think all of our guys, we feel like we’re moving in the same direction,” said Beschorner, a first-time head coach. “If we can do that, great things can happen. We’ve seen a lot of progress from spring, summer.”
While there’s an adjustment at the top of the food chain, the rest of the Blugolds’ staff should help with the transition period. Beschorner inherited a majority of the assistants from departed Dan Larson, now an assistant himself at the Football Championship Subdivision level at North Dakota State. Only three 2019 coaches are new to the program: wide receivers coach and strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Tomsho, defensive line coach Dakota Hermes and tight ends coach Sam Loftsgaarden.
The holdovers include defensive coordinator Matt Ebner, who led the group to strong numbers in 2018. UWEC led the WIAC in sacks and red zone defense and ranked third in pass and total defense.
“For me, keeping the staff together was a big deal, especially on defense,” said Swanson, one of the team’s four captains this season. “Last year we switched a little bit of stuff up in the spring, but this year is my second year and I’m kind of getting it down. It’s a lot better not having to come into my last year running a totally different new defense.”
The defensive unit returns the team’s top four tacklers, all four players who snagged interceptions and all but one of the seven players who forced a fumble.
“We kind of talk without really talking,” Swanson said. “We’ve played together now for two, three years, so it’s just exciting putting it all together on the defensive side.”
Linebacker Sam Romanski is the centerpiece of the defense, earning D3football.com preseason first-team All-American honors after earning second-team honors as a junior. The man with the trademark blond locks led the conference in sacks (14.5) and tackles for a loss (17.5) and was the team’s top tackler with 59 in 2018.
On offense, the Blugolds graduated starting running back Brian Kulaga, a second-team All-WIAC selection last year, but have Austin Belot to fill in the gap. He ran for 195 yards and a touchdown on 60 carries as a sophomore.
Who will be handing him the ball and running the air raid is still a question mark, but the Blugolds possibly pointed to their starting signal caller earlier this week with the team’s captains announcement. Among the four chosen was sophomore Jonathan Malueg, who threw nine passes as since-graduated Scott Procter’s backup last season.
There’s opportunity at the wideout position with the graduation of the team’s top receiver in 2018, Leeshaun Evans, and the departure of Brycen Froelich. Antwan Moore is the top returning producer, having caught 21 passes for 222 yards. Darius Jones and Brandon Keeley should slide up the depth chart as juniors after 100-plus yard seasons.
No matter who is out on the field, the offense will be up-tempo, a noticeable adjustment since the first practices of spring ball.
“The main thing I’ve noticed is we can never be fast enough,” offensive lineman Ben Peterson said.
While his roots may be in the lower levels of football, Beschorner has taken lessons from his three years as an assistant in FBS. Two of the stops, Pittsburgh and Maryland, saw him coach alongside his friend and one of the college game’s most unique offensive minds, Matt Canada.
“I think you take pieces from everybody,” Beschorner said at his introductory press conference in February. “Every different head coach, every single assistant coach you work with, it doesn’t matter. You take a piece and you kind of try and make it your own and mold it into what you believe.”
UW-Eau Claire starts the 2019-20 campaign against Loras, a team the Blugolds bested 45-13 last season. The schedule features the same ten opponents from last year, with WIAC play kicking off Oct. 5 at UW-Whitewater. The final game of the regular season will be one to circle, Beschorner’s first rivalry matchup with UW-Stout. It’s a meeting Meierkort said he’ll be anxiously watching from afar.
“Wesley’s like a son to me,” Meierkort said. “But I also have tremendous friends in the athletic department at Stout.”