Switch to football pays off for Northwestern-bound Welcing
In seemingly the time it takes a hockey team to change lines on the fly, Hunter Welcing switched sports and scored a scholarship.
A football scholarship.
"I thank God for all the talents I was given," said Welcing, a Lake Zurich junior and former hockey left winger. "Switching over to football is obviously something that has worked out for me. It's been great ever since I switched. I'm glad I made the decision."
Welcing verbally committed to Northwestern University last month. The scholarship is a remarkable, if not surprising, achievement considering Welcing never played organized football until his sophomore year. He was busy with hockey up until then.
"I grew up playing hockey since I was 4 years old," said the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Welcing, who is no longer playing the sport. "It wasn't a hard transition in the sense that football has obviously worked out for me now. It's something that I enjoy playing and going to practice every day."
Welcing took an unofficial visit to Northwestern during spring practice with his dad, Ron, and talked to Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who offered him a scholarship. Welcing returned to Evanston the following week and surprised Fitzgerald with his commitment.
It was Welcing's second Division I offer, after Western Michigan offered him about a month before. Last fall, Welcing was an honorable mention All-North Suburban Conference selection for Lake Zurich, which won seven games. The previous season, head coach Luke Mertens had promoted Welcing from the sophomore team for the state playoffs, which ended with the Bears playing in the Class 7A championship game.
"He's a hybrid tight end, and that's exactly what he's going to play at Northwestern," Mertens said. "At Northwestern they call them 'superbacks.' What he's going to be asked to do at Northwestern is exactly what we ask him to do. It's like this new breed of tight end, which is a really athletic tight end, kind of a cross between a tight end, fullback and receiver."
Jack Moses and brothers Bryan and Jack Sanborn are neighbors of Welcing, who says they were a big influence on pushing him toward football. Moses and Bryan Sanborn are also juniors who, like Welcing, helped the Bears reach the second round of the playoffs last fall. Jack Sanborn is playing for Wisconsin.
Like the Sanborns, Welcing plays some linebacker.
"He's very versatile, and he's extremely explosive," Mertens said. "He's fast, he has good ball instincts, and he's relatively new to the game."
Welcing is an honor roll student who wants to study pre-med and is interested in anesthesiology or orthopedics. For now, he remains focused on his high school studies, working hard and playing hard.
Just not hockey opponents.
"Hockey's a great sport and obviously I miss some of the guys that I played with because I spent 5-8 years of my life with some of those guys," Welcing said. "I don't want to say it's a connection that I'm losing with those guys by me leaving (the sport), but I guess it's something that I sacrificed in order to play football."
With no regrets.