Sports

There’s another pass-catcher named Welch at Pacific Lutheran University – 30 years later

Junior receiver Ben Welch (12) is the lone returning skill-position player on offense for the inexperienced Pacific Lutheran football team, which begins the season Saturday at Cal Lutheran.
Junior receiver Ben Welch (12) is the lone returning skill-position player on offense for the inexperienced Pacific Lutheran football team, which begins the season Saturday at Cal Lutheran. Pacific Lutheran University

Occasionally over the years, Ben Welch welcomed his family’s tall tales of Pacific Lutheran University football.

Welch knew his father, Steve, was a star in the mid-1980s — at a time when the Lutes were evolving into the high-powered offense they are known as today.

He even knew his father set school records, such as catching a touchdown pass in 15 consecutive games (1984-86). And Steve’s All-America senior year at tight end — in which he had 1,039 receiving yards, 17 touchdowns — is considered one of the best seasons a PLU offensive player has ever posted.

Finally this summer, Welch reached the point of wanting to see his father in action himself. So two weeks ago, the junior receiver at PLU met with coach Scott Westering to inquire if the school had a hidden vault of old game film he could dig through.

Westering said he did — on 16-millimeter film.

“I just have to go to dad’s (Frosty’s) garage,” Westering said, “and find the projector.”

What Welch would likely see are similar traits shared between father and son: Both are regarded as savvy route-runners and sure-handed pass-catchers.

Now, after 18 starters were graduated from last season’s squad, Welch is the lone returning skill-position starter on offense.

Working mainly as a slot receiver, Welch caught 27 passes for 293 yards last season — second on the team behind graduated star Kyle Warner (48 catches), who finished his four-year career with 189 receptions.

“We won’t have one guy with 80-90 catches this year,” Welch said. “We should have five guys with 50 catches.”

Welch isn’t an attention-seeker, nor do statistics mean a whole lot to him. It’s something his father instilled in him very early in Ben’s childhood.

“We don’t have any PLU memorabilia — except for a Frosty bobblehead, and the Frosty-isms we have integrated into our own lives,” Steve said. “And Frosty used to have a saying that stuck with me: statistics are for losers. And if you are looking back, you are not looking ahead.”

Steve said his son was a high-energy athlete from the time he was 6 years old — and a natural to play football.

Yet as Ben Welch reached his senior year at King’s High School, he thought he could go to an NCAA Division I program to play baseball.

He ended up choosing PLU over California Lutheran so he could play both sports.

“It’s definitely a little more difficult than what a typical college athlete takes on,” Welch said.

But what a decision it has turned out to be.

In 2013, he was a starting wide receiver in the Lutes’ NCAA Division III playoff game at Linfield — a 42-21 loss in McMinnville, Oregon.

Last season as the baseball team’s starting shortstop, Welch helped lead the Lutes to the Northwest Conference regular-season crown and a national tournament berth in Georgia.

“For the athleticism and experience he brings, he is at the core of our receiving group,” Westering said.

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442

todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

@ManyHatsMilles

PACIFIC LUTHERAN LUTES

Coach: Scott Westering, 12th season (62-39 record)

2014 season: 7-2, 5-2 in Northwest Conference (third place)

Offense: Base scheme – multiple sets. Coordinator – Trevor Roberts. Returning starters (3) – RT Cody Erpelding, 6-4, 280, sr.; LT Austin Striplin, 6-2, 245, so.; WR Ben Welch, 5-11, 180, jr.

Defense: Base scheme – 3-4 zone blitz. Coordinator – Craig McCord. Returning starters (3) – DE Chase Houser, 6-4, 255, sr.; DE Kris Singstad, 6-0, 250, so.; OLB Kyle Bennett, 5-11, 195, sr.

Special teams: Coordinator – Jud Keim. Returning starters (2) – PK Dallan Rodriguez, 5-10, 185, so.; KR Richard Johnson, 5-9, 180, so.

Outlook: After starting with four losing seasons in his first six years as coach, Westering has quietly restored much of the Lutes’ winning tradition. PLU has won 36 games the past five seasons (with a pair of NCAA Division III playoff berths), finishing no worse than third place in the conference. His 62 wins are second-most in school history behind his legendary father, Frosty (261). Yet, one question remains — when will the Lutes become serious NWC contenders again? Very likely not in 2015, which is expected to be a transition season with 18 new starters. And it is a year the Lutes have to replace their top quarterback (Dalton Richey), tailback (Niko Madison) and wide receiver (Kyle Warner), who all graduated. Those three standouts made up nearly 85 percent of the team’s total yards (4,151 yards) last season. New starting quarterback Jon Schaub is an accurate passer from the pocket but isn’t the dual threat Richey was. The offense’s big-play threat very well could be at tailback in sophomore Marc Gallant, a California product who saw playing time last season as a true freshman. He and Darin Hardgrove, a bigger running back, could develop into a formidable rushing tandem. PLU will mine some of its incoming talent early, but that won’t make up for team’s relative lack of experience — at least early on.

2015 schedule: Saturday at California Lutheran, 7 p.m.; Sept. 26 vs. Trinity University (Texas), 1 p.m.; Oct. 3 at Pacific (Ore.), 1 p.m.; Oct. 10 vs. Willamette (Ore.), 1 p.m.; Oct. 17 at Whitworth, 1 p.m.; Oct. 24 vs. George Fox (Ore.), 1 p.m.; Oct. 31 at Puget Sound, 1 p.m.; Nov. 7 at Lewis & Clark (Ore.), 1 p.m.; Nov. 14 vs. Linfield (Ore.), 1 p.m.

todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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