The Bruins' 6-foot-7, 235-pounder entered the 2004 season expecting to call the signals for Coach Ron Crawford's pro-style passing attack. Crawford's elaborate offense has helped prepare recent quarterback alumni Matt Henshaw and Austin Eversen for college careers, and with his outstanding size, vision and throwing ability, Welch looked to be the next in line.
But a shoulder injury in pre-season practice scotched all that, and Crawford was forced to move mobile backup Bruce McCurdy to quarterback. His throwing ability limited, Welch shifted over to tight end / defensive end, where he also possessed the athleticism to flourish.
In the end McCurdy proved more than capable calling the signals. The move was also a win-win for Welch, who demonstrated an uncanny knack for his new positions. Suddenly, as a result, colleges have started reevaluating him as a prototype tight end prospect.
"Not only did we use him as a tight end on the line of scrimmage in a blocking role, we also used him as a flexed-out receiver," said Crawford. "With him being 6-foot-7, it caused a lot of mismatches. We're a spread offense, and his size and ability caused people to play only six in the box. It opened up both our passing game and our running game."
After the season, Crawford could have put together a highlight reel for Welch that was every bit as impressive as the one he might have assembled for Welch the quarterback.
"Toward the end of the year he made tons and tons of plays for us," Crawford said. "He did everything. He blocked kicks. He picked up fumbles and returned them for touchdowns. He ended up the year just having a dominating performance, just like you'd expect from somebody his size."
Though he projects as a college tight end, Welch also quickly adapted to the role of a pass-rushing defensive end, where he became virtually unstoppable.
"He's still learning both sides of the ball, honestly," Crawford said. "But he was an outstanding pass-rusher, and got better and better against the run as the season went on. Considering it was the first time he'd ever played defense, he was quite a force for us.
"He was a force for us on both sides of the football. He's a difficult matchup for anybody because of his size."
Crawford's recent comment in The Tennessean that "if [Welch] had another year to play, he might be the top tight end in the nation," raised eyebrows, and has served to raise Welch's profile among recruiters. Arkansas State, Memphis, Vanderbilt, MTSU, Alabama, Marshall and Louisville have all expressed various degrees of interest in the big tight end.
"He won't be 18 until June 19," Crawford said. "I told a college coach the other day, if he was coming back, he might be the top-rated tight end in the nation. Somebody is going to get a jewel, because he's such an unknown."
Arkansas State and Memphis are his only major college offers to date.