Nick Welch bided his time and capitalized on his opportunity.
As a junior he carried the ball just 19 times and gained 91 yards for the Brainerd Warriors, playing behind 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Hayes and 800-yard rusher Matt Pohlkamp. Hayes and Pohlkamp combined to score 27 touchdowns.
When Hayes graduated, and Pohlkamp didn’t play football this fall, it gave Welch an opportunity to become Brainerd’s feature back.
“I knew he was going to be a good player,” Warriors coach Ron Stolski said. “He took what he had last year, and took his game to another level. He did things we so often see seniors do. He’s a committed Warrior athlete, a physical player.”
Through 10 games Welch has rushed for an even 1,000 yards and has scored eight touchdowns. He has burst for five 100-yard games, including a breakout 251-yard effort against Cambridge-Isanti. That ranks as one of the top individual performances in Warrior football history.
“I don’t think there’s any question he’s been the spark of our offense, our running game especially,” Stolski said. “I was pleased to see he made 1,000 yards. He was not aware how close he was, and either was I.
“I think what stands out about Nick is here’s a boy a year ago who just waited his turn. He didn’t get a lot of opportunities, but you could see it in him, you could see it in his eyes. He spent the offseason doing everything he could to help himself become better.
“He’s one of the stronger players on our team. He’s a leader by example. He plays with uncommon fire. He’s one of the premier running backs in the conference, I don’t think there’s any question about it.”
Welch hit the weight room following his junior football season. He worked on speed and agility and added about 30 pounds while raising his maximums to 410 in the squat lift and to 260 in the bench press.
“Over the winter I got a lot bigger and stronger,” Welch said. “I thought with all the hard work I would probably get a good amount of playing time.”
It didn’t hurt Welch that he also competes in track and field, long jumping and running the 200-meter dash.
“Probably the jumping helps in the explosiveness of (football),” Welch said. “And, running is always good too.”
Welch was having a solid season but elevated his game against C-I in the first round of the Section 8-5A playoffs. In the first quarter he touched the ball just four times but gained 181 yards and scored three times. He had runs of 10, 53, 44 and 74 yards in the first.
At the end of the first quarter Brainerd led 28-0 so Welch carried just seven times the rest of the game.
“It was pretty wild,” he said. “I really didn’t know how to react or what to expect after that. It was just one of those nights.”
Against St. Cloud Tech in the section semifinals, Welch needed 112 yards to attain the milestone. He finished with exactly that number and helped Brainerd to a 42-0 win.
Like all successful running backs, Welch is the first to credit his offensive line for his productivity. That line includes Jake Kassulker and Cody Backmann at tackle, Caleb Tautges and Jon Asprey at guard, Billy Desrocher at center and Alex Evanson at tight end.
“I think what helped them a lot was over the winter they got much stronger and faster,” Welch said. “They just learned with playing time and especially to stay low and keep their feet going.”
Other notable efforts:
• Beth Etterman, diving; Fallon Ryan, 500 free; and the 400 free relay of Laura Boran, Reilly Peterson, Alyssa Hartshorn and Ryan all finished second in the CLC meet to earn all-conference honors.
• Hannah Kangas, volleyball, had 31 set assists and 14 digs against Fergus Falls.
• Sydnie Mauch, volleyball, had 14 kills and 4.5 blocks against Fergus Falls.