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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Three minutes remained in Iowa’s season-opening victory against Miami (Ohio) when Hawkeye freshman linebacker Kristian Welch joined senior Anthony Gair in leveling the Redhawks’ Travion Banks after a pass completion.
That was the first and so far only tackle for Welch, who is making significant contributions on kickoff, kickoff return, and punt return teams.
After 10 games, the Hawkeyes rank first in the Big Ten Conference in kickoff returns (25.2 yards per return) and second in punt returns (10.0 yards per return).
“I want to come out, compete, and work my butt off to do my best to help the team,” Welch said.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound outside linebacker from Iola, Wisconsin, is one of three UI freshmen from the state of Wisconsin. The others are quarterback Nathan Stanley and running back Toren Young. Welch and Stanley are roommates in Petersen Residence Hall.
“(Nate and I) met at a game, we’re both from Wisconsin and we hit it off right away,” Welch said. “We’re good buddies now; we connected from the start.”
Welch knew of Stanley and Young in high school, although his Iola-Scandinavia High School is much smaller than Stanley’s Menomonie or Young’s Monona Grove. There were 51 students in Welch’s graduating class and 240 in the entire high school.
UI linebackers coach and then recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace was the first to contact Welch, a multi-sport star for the Thunderbirds. Welch also played basketball and was a state qualifier in track and field.
“Coach Wallace and I hit it off,” Welch said. “I found out halfway through the process he was going to be my position coach. I also liked the tradition, Hawkeye fans, and the fact Iowa was in the Big Ten — it all that came together for me.”
“I’m trying to get the offense ready every week, so I’m trying to lead from that standpoint.” — Kristian Welch
Welch plays outside linebacker behind juniors Ben Niemann and Kevin Ward. That means he spends a lot of practice time on scout team.
“I’m trying to get the offense ready every week, so I’m trying to lead from that standpoint,” Welch said.
After Welch arrived for fall camp there was discussion on whether he would play tight end or linebacker. UI head coach Kirk Ferentz was impressed when he watched Welch’s highlight tape.
“When he came to camp we started him on defense and I think that’s where he probably belongs,” Ferentz said. “He has done a nice job. Kristian is a mature guy and works hard. He has done a good job on special teams and I think he has a good future at the outside linebacker position.”
Welch was also a running back in high school, but he now devotes his full attention to improving as a linebacker. Welch says Wallace has helped sharpen his fundamentals and he continues to pick up pointers from Niemann, junior Bo Bower, and junior Josey Jewell.
“My goal is to come to practice and compete every day and try to improve at my linebacker position,” Welch said.
The Hawkeyes (6-4 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) play Illinois (3-7, 2-5) on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois. Kickoff is 11 a.m. (CT).