Dual-threat QB will lead Pioneers into Nov. 16 home/season/career finale

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Lewis & Clark quarterback Keith Welch lets go with a pass on the run against Wisconsin-Platteville on Sept. 21.Nov. 17 will be a sad day in a way for Lewis & Clark football, no matter what happens Nov. 16 at home against Whitworth.

Nov. 17 will be the first day in the life of the L&C program without do-it-all quarterback Keith Welch.

"Guess I've got to retire now," jokes Pioneers coach Chris Sulages.

It's hard to imagine where the Pios would have been the past four years without Welch, who has busted numerous records and has a few more in reach.

"He's amazing," Sulages says.

The 6-0, 190-pounder from Fairfield (Calif.) High has been a dual threat, often having to carry a relatively shorthanded team against national power Linfield or the other heavyweights of the Northwest Conference.

"Defenses always drop guys off to make sure he doesn't run for the first down. They spy on him and do all that stuff," Sulages says.

Still, Welch produces.

He has become L&C's all-time leader in total offense (11,150 yards). That's also the record for the Northwest Conference; Mark Weekly of Pacific Lutheran amassed 10,977 yards from 1990-93.

Welch also has set a Pioneers record with 70 touchdown passes.

He goes into his final game — Lewis & Clark has a bye this week — ranked second all-time in L&C passing yards, with 8,450, 45 shy of the mark set by Trent Thompson in 2000-03.

Welch also needs 21 completions to break Thompson's school record of 717.

WELCHThis year, the injury-plagued Pioneers are 1-7 going into the finale with Whitworth (noon kickoff). They've played five teams in the top 25 among NCAA Division III and two in the top 10.

Without Welch, who knows where they would be.

He leads the NWC in 2013 passing yards (2,407), passing yards per game (300.9) and touchdown passes (24). He also has rushed for 391 yards and six TDs.

Welch also played baseball and basketball in high school.

"I'm glad he chose football," Sulages says.

At L&C, he got injured early as a freshman but got a medical redshirt year.

Sulages recalls how the coaches came to realize that he was the guy they needed at the controls.

"He could always throw the ball great," Sulages says, "but probably the hardest transition for any quarterback is more than that — but the first time we gave him a play call, he ran into the huddle, called the play correctly, got everybody lined up right and snapped the ball like he'd done it a million times. You don't always see that. So right then we knew we had something special. And then he started running around, and we really knew."

Welch went on to rush for team highs of 957 yards (7.1 average) in 2010 and 740 yards (second in the conference) in 2011. He was voted all-NWC in 2010 as a redshirt freshman and became the NWC player of the year in 2011.

Welch helped give Lewis & Clark football some of its best days in a generation. The program had floundered for years, hitting bottom in 2005, when L&C had to cancel its conference season because of low squad numbers. Under Sulages, the Pioneers climbed back to respectability, and Welch's exploits got them to lofty heights with a 6-0 start to the 2011 season.

Welch, a psychology major, has gotten the job done in the classroom and off the field as well. He'll graduate this year with a GPA of close to 3.5, Sulages says.

"He's a sharp guy, personality-wise and as a person," the coach says. "An all-around student-athlete."

Welch has a variety of interests, including graphic design and marketing. Sulages says the QB could wind up working for an athletic department or pro team, and he has thought about becoming a sports agent.

Welch's football days might not be over, though.

"He probably could play in Europe," Sulages says, "and I think he could play arena football."

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