IOWA CITY, Iowa – Assuming he is the Iowa football team’s next great offensive lineman, Sean Welsh is likely to handle the attention just like one of his predecessors did.
Former Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff was a master at deflecting or downplaying praise during his rise to stardom as a Hawkeye. The 2014 Outland Trophy winner never seemed comfortable talking about what made him special.
Welsh is the same way despite the efforts of his mother.
“For me personally, I’ll speak from experience, whenever I read into any of that stuff, it gets in my head,” Welsh said Wednesday at a press conference featuring several Iowa players. “So I try to block it out.
“My mom is always sending stuff and she’s proud. But for me personally, it doesn’t help me perform any better.”
Some of the attention doesn’t even make sense to Welsh, like for example, him being named to the Rimington Trophy Watch List, which goes to the top collegiate center. Welsh made the list even though he’s never played center in college.
Welsh has played guard and tackle for the Hawkeyes, but never center, although, that could change this fall with Welsh currently listed as the starting center.
“That is a little strange,” Welsh said of the being on the Rimington Trophy Watch List. “The first thing I thought is someone must have messed up.
“It’s an honor, it really is. It’s exciting. But we’ve got a lot of football to play. I haven’t even played there. So we’ll see what happens.”
Welsh has made incredible strides as a football player since missing most of the 2014 spring practice session for personal reasons, which he later described as temporary burnout.
Football takes a lot out of person, physically and mentally. It’s a painful grind that pushes a body to the extreme.
The brief time away from the sport seems to have re-energized Welsh because the Springboro, Ohio native has been on a roll ever since.
Welsh has combined to start 23 games over the past two seasons, including all 14 games last season.
It’s hard to think of another Iowa offensive linemen who could match Welsh’s versatility. He started 12 games last season at left guard and two at right tackle.
And now he gets his shot at center as Iowa looks to replace all-Big Ten center Austin Blythe, who used up his eligibility last season.
“I’ve got a little more experience moving around, so it’s not so hard for me,” said Welsh, who was named second-team preseason All-America by Athlon Sports. “I really don’t mind. I don’t.”
Welsh makes everything related to football seem simple. It’s almost like he wakes up every day and says don’t take yourself or the game too serious.
He was explaining to reporters on Wednesday the difference between weight distribution for a guard or tackle compared to a center and it seemed like a pretty big deal. A guard or tackle will put more weight on their down hand in order to help explode off the line of scrimmage, whereas a center starts by hiking the ball backwards.
So what you have are two completely different movements that require different muscle memory, which Welsh acknowledged before trying to downplay it.
“It’s just a lot of different muscle memory that you have to learn,” Welsh said. “But it’s not too different. It really isn’t.”
To Welsh, it’s not too different. But to most offensive linemen, it would be. That’s why you don’t see many offensive linemen rotate from guard to tackle to center.
One of the first signs that Welsh might be special is what Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said about him this spring.
Ferentz raised a few eyebrows when he compared Welsh to former Iowa offensive lineman Marshal Yanda, who is arguably the most dominant guard in the NFL. Yanda recently signed a four-year, $37.4 million contract extension with the Baltimore Ravens that will pay the Anamosa native a guaranteed $6.2 million in 2016.
In his two-year Hawkeye career, Yanda played guard (in 2005) and tackle (in 2006).
“We think he’s a pretty good player,” Ferentz said of Welsh in early April. “I hate to throw this out, because I don’t want to start this train going, but Marshal (Yanda) comes to mind.”
Welsh also seems like a pretty good teammate. That was apparent on Wednesday when he was asked about being a team leader.
Welsh is only a junior, so he quickly deferred to the seniors on the team.
Last year’s seniors were praised for creating an environment that led to a 12-win season. Welsh sees similarities with the current senior class, which includes 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King and all-Big Ten quarterback C.J. Beathard.
"I wouldn’t say it’s a singular role,” Welsh said. “It’s kind of team thing. We’ve got a good group of seniors. Across the board, we’ve got a bunch of older guys who are really taking charge and doing a great job of leading."
Welsh fits the Iowa mold as an average recruit who had major talent that was just waiting to be utilized. He was undersized coming out of high school and still is at 6-foot-3 and 288 pounds.
Indiana was the only other Big Ten team besides Iowa to offer Welsh a scholarship according to Rivals.
Ferentz saw something in Welsh that most other Power five coaches didn’t see.
And now Ferentz is being rewarded for his vision.