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Football no laughing matter for Welch

By Mike London

Salisbury Post

Former comedian John Welch got the last laugh.

The South offensive lineman earned berths on this year’s All-Central Piedmont Conference and All-Rowan County teams.

Jason Rollins spent years as a South assistant before moving over to East Rowan for one year. When Rollins was named Rick Vanhoy’s successor as South’s head coach prior to this season, he still had a clear mental image of all the players in South’s program.

But Welch shocked him. He remembered Welch as a good student and a nice guy but nothing special as a football player.

“I was kind of amazed at how he’d changed,” Rollins said. “There had been a transformation in John, and it was obvious from the first workout. He’d been kind of a cut-up, sort of a goofball, but he’d gotten serious and had taken on a different role. Physically and mentally, he was a totally different animal.

“There was absolutely no doubt from my first day that he was going to be a captain.”

Welch had enjoyed football back to his days as a YFL Landis Bulldog, but it had always been just a game. A new attitude kicked in as Welch started preparing for his senior season the winter of his junior year.

“I just stopped kidding around so much and decided to make my senior year the best I could possibly make it,” Welch said. “I started seeing some results in the weight room, so I kept at it pretty hard.”

When Welch passed on a beach trip with his church group because he didn’t want to miss even one of Rollins’ sweaty summer workouts, the last doubters realized Welch was serious.

Welch entered his senior season employing the same helmet sticker and red knee socks that his brother, Jamey, a tight end on winning South teams, wore as a senior in 1996.

Welch needed all the family inspiration he could find in August and September when it appeared he’d been appointed captain of a sinking ship. South took six straight beatings, mostly by 50, right out of the gate.

Thin and slow when the season started, South got thinner and a lot slower when Josh Wike and Justin Lane got banged up.

Welch picked up a personal foul against Mooresville in Week 5, but it was the first clue that South was tired of being a punching bag. South was overmatched by Davie 55-0 the next week but played with heightened intensity. Welch, who was seeing triple duty at O-line, defensive end and special teams, logged sacks against both Mooresville and Davie.

“When John came over to defense, I had to help him get lined up right,” linebacker Jerek Cannon said. “But he always did the job for us, always helped us.”

Welch, Cannon and quarterback Ivan Corriher were leaders that didn’t allow their teammates to fall apart during the darkest days.

Welch was one of the first to carry South’s mascot “Skully” onto the field and jam it into the ground with authority. The $2 ceramic skull bank sported an eye-patch and was impaled on a long stick.

“It was just kind of a physical symbol of the spirit of the Raiders,” Welch explained.

A symbol of the Raiders’ proud tradition. They weren’t going to quit.

When South traveled to R.J. Reynolds for a Thursday night game, a handful of faithful fans journeyed to watch an 0-6 team that had been outscored 302-20 and was threatening every statistical record as the worst team in school and county history.

But Wike was healthy, and so was Lane. Cannon was everywhere. Welch made two sacks and blasted gaping holes for Wike in a 29-14 victory.

“Coming on the field that night, everything just seemed right,” Welch said. “It felt like we were supposed to win, and we went for it.”

That unexpected success turned the season. South beat a physically superior North Davidson team in front of a huge crowd at home and won a 3-0 brawl in the rain with rival East Rowan.

If any 3-8 season can be declared a success, this was it. Rollins’ team won the only three games it had any prayer of winning.

Without Welch, who graded out nine of 11 weeks, South may never have tasted victory.

“When we had to move the ball, we always ran it behind John,” Rollins said. “He was an outstanding lineman, and he was more than that. He was the leader of our program.”

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Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or mlondon@salisburypost.com.

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