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Thursday, September 30, 2021

Injury to Senior Football Star Leaves Welch Family Seeking Silver Lining in Tough Situation

 Welch Looking to Recover for Track Season

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands senior wide receiver Jake Welch is out for the season. He's trying to recover for track season in the spring. Welch won the 400 meter dash in 49.67 seconds in the Class AA State Meet in June.

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It was supposed to be a banner football season for the Welch family.

Mike Welch, a 1993 Highlands alum, had worked his way up through the coaching ranks and first-year Head Coach Bob Sphire hired him to coach the outside linebackers this year. His oldest son Jake Welch returned for his third season on the varsity as a senior and younger son Nate Welch entered the year as a sophomore running back/defensive back.

Mike Welch helped the Bluebirds to the Class AAA state championship in 1992 as a running back and cornerback graduating with recently-passed former University of Kentucky assistant coach John Schlarman. He'd played wide receiver some as a junior. Mike Welch started coaching the Red Devils youth football team then moved on to the freshman team staff before taking his current role this year.

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"It's been an absolute dream. I've had the chance to coach them from Little League on,"
 Mike Welch said of coaching his sons. "It's just worked out that we've gotten to be together. For the first time ever, all three of us were on the same team so that was pretty cool. I've had a lot of fun doing it."

Jake Welch primed himself for a solid senior season at wide receiver. His blazing speed had been giving opponents troubles throughout the years. But he is out for the season as a result of an injury sustained against Cincinnati McNicholas.

Jake Welch came to the Highlands girls soccer game Monday cheering hard for the Bluebirds. He knows some good things will come out of the situation.

"I'm just trying to stay positive and make sure I still have a positive impact on the team coaching up the younger guys," Jake Welch said. "I'm just going to stay focused, grind out rehab and hope to be back by winter track going into spring track season."

Jake Welch finished the season with 19 catches for 322 yards and two touchdowns and five rushes for 35 yards. He had eight catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns in the 53-38 win at Simon Kenton on Aug. 27.

"They were great," Jake Welch said. "It's something you've dreamed of and dreamed for since you first started playing flag football. It was worth every hot, sweaty practice in the summer. Grinding it out has been a great experience. I'm glad to get in what I did this year."

Jake Welch scored in four events at the Class 2A state track and field meet winning the 400 dash in 49.67 seconds last year. Jake Welch also took fifth in the 200 in 22.67 seconds and seventh in the 100 in 11.19 seconds scoring 16 points individually.

Since his arrival in March, Sphire and staff tried to take advantage of Jake Welch's abilities running some plays designed for him such as end-arounds. Sphire said Jake Welch impressed him as "one hyper-competitive athlete."

"(Jake Welch) seems to approach everything from the perspective of planning and expecting to win," Sphire said. "People think that is just natural to all athletes. It is not. Many wonder if they might win. Some just hope they can be in position to possibly win. I am sure by indoor track season this winter he will be winning because Jake expects that he will be winning. He appears to have an unshakable confidence in his ability to compete."

Highlands had a chance to win a state championship in the final event. Jake Welch helped the Bluebirds finish second in the mile relay in a school record time of three minutes, 25.49 seconds behind North Oldham. But Highlands fell just short with 75 points. Mercer County won it with 78.5 points.

"It was something I'd been working toward my whole life," Welch said. "When you're in those hard days and it's super hot out in the summer and the spring, you don't want to do an extra rep. That's what you think of is winning state. It helps you push."

His mother in 1994 Highlands graduate Keri Imhoff-Welch is a physical therapist. Jake Welch tore an Anterior Cruciated Ligament as a sophomore against Covington Catholic missing the final two games of the season. He finished with five catches for 93 yards and three touchdowns that year.

"We actually had a good physical therapist he saw for a while," Keri Welch said. "Getting him back to his agility and stuff, I was able to do that so that was really nice for him because he could be comfortable. This won't be much different. He is so motivated, so disciplined and he works hard. I don't really have to push him. I just have to tell him what to do and he'll do it, which is awesome."

Orangetheory Fitness, Newport Pavilion. 

Jake Welch had a team-high 251 yards on 10 catches and two touchdowns in 2020 in a season shortened by Coronavirus 2019. Highlands finished 5-6 losing 38-21 in the second round of the playoffs at Covington Catholic. He also missed some games that year because of injuries.

Jake Welch said he'll be on crutches for four weeks. But he has a weighted grade-point average of 4.299. He hopes to run track in college. Jake Welch has taken a visit to Centre College in Danville and will visit Davidson University (North Carolina) and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington after the football season ends. 

Jake Welch also has other things to look forward to his senior year such as Prom. He sat in the stands in April when the Highlands Boys Basketball team won the first state championship in school history defeating Elizabethtown, 79-60 in the state title game.

"It was amazing. The culture we have here at Highlands is great," Jake Welch said. "All the students coming out and supporting our teams is a great thing to be a part of."

The Highlands football team is 3-3 on the season entering district play against Conner on Friday. The coaching staff has worked with other wide receivers such as seniors Oliver HarrisClayton Lloyd, junior Brennan Kelsay and sophomores Carson Class and Matteo Matteoli to pick up the slack at wide receiver.

"I think we're moving in the right direction for sure," Mike Welch said. "I think there's a different look and feel the way we prepare, the way we work, how much we're learning. How much I've learned from Coach Sphire has been fun as heck. He's constantly teaching these kids and just letting them understand football. The work they're committed to and putting in is just great."

The game against Conner starts at 7 p.m. Friday.

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