IOWA CITY, Iowa – What exactly went on with Sean Welsh this spring is personal. It’s between he, his family and the friends and members of the Iowa team with whom he chose to share it.
That’s the way it should be. He’s a college football player in a place where they’re very visible public figures. But there are lines we as media and fans should not cross.
If the athlete or coach decides to open up about a private matter in his life, fine. If not, he owes no explanation.
That’s why I really appreciated how Welsh let me into his world enough for me to understand what he needed this spring was to be away from the thing in his life he most loves. The glimpse came on Saturday at the team’s annual media day.
Many of us on the outside wondered if Welsh was done with football. Coach Kirk Ferentz remained cautiously optimistic of a return when he told us that his starting left guard needed time. Nothing was definite though.
Welsh came back to the team for summer workouts. He never doubted he’d be a Hawkeye again.
"I was confident. The reason I took that time away was I was committed to the team and I didn’t feel like I was at a healthy point at that point. I thought it was the best move and the reason why I made it was because I wanted to be back healthy and ready to go and in the best shape possible," the sophomore from Springboro (Ohio) High said.
We often think of "being in shape" only in physical terms. At times, the mental aspect of the game plays an equal or bigger role in the health of an athlete.
Welsh should be applauded for realizing something was off and addressing it. His commitment to the team and sport allowed him to do that. It was extremely unselfish.
Players attempt to push through these things all the time. They’re taught to be tough. Then, things spin further out of control and beyond repair.
"It was just a personal issue. It was something that I didn’t feel like I was in a healthy state to go into spring ball. I took that time away to evaluate things and I came back ready to go," he said.
Where would he be had he not taken the time? No one knows for sure but the path from freshman to senior in college football is littered with guys who burned out and faded away.
The other Hawkeye players and coaches also deserve a great deal of credit here. Their understanding aided Welsh through a difficult time and showed him he was wanted when he was ready.
"They were completely supportive. They really helped out in any way they could. I think I’ve surrounded myself with the best group of people I can," he said.
"Being away, it was tough but it really gave me an appreciation for the opportunity that we really have and just being around these guys, it’s just a blessing being a part of this, this group."
Frequently these situations go unnoticed because they happen to players struggling to get on the field. That’s what makes this instance unique as Welsh, who played in 13 games, starting seven in 2014, when he earned first-team Freshman All-Big Ten honors from BTN.com.
Welsh (6-3, 288) returns as the back-up to Eric Simmons at left guard on the latest depth chart. He doesn’t view that as a negative.
"I’m approaching it just like I’m coming into the program. It’s kind of been a little bit of a reset button. It’s given me a fresh perspective," he said.
"It just comes down to hard work. That’s all it is. It’s not really complicated. You just work hard and good things come."
Welsh said he stayed in shape by running and lifting weights while he was away. He worked out in the Iowa facilities during spring practices on a different schedule than his teammates. He didn’t feel behind when camp opened this week.
"I’d compare it to riding a bike a little bit. You spend so much time learning and really focusing on the training and the fundamentals. By no means are any of us where we need to be but we’ll all be ready to go," he said.
Iowa Line Coach Brian Ferentz threw Welsh into the deep end without a preserver last fall. He was inexperienced and undersized playing alongside all-American left tackle Brandon Scherff.
"I would like to have thought I was (ready for Big Ten football) but there’s really not a lot you can do. There’s something to be said for actually experiencing it. It was a very humbling experience. You realize how completive it is," Welsh said.
Even with missing spring practice, Welsh views himself far ahead of where he was at this time a year ago.
"I definitely feel that I have a better grasp of our offense. I’m more comfortable with the offense," he said.
Welsh said he’s "100 percent" invested in being a member of the Iowa football team after working things out in the spring.
"I’m really ready to go at it. I’ve been itching to go at it. We don’t have a lot of opportunities to actually play. There are 12 games guaranteed to actually go out and play the game. So, I’m excited to play football. I’m ready to play," he said.
Physically and mentally.