SPRING GARDEN – Spring Garden senior linebacker/fullback Luke Welsh not only looks the part of a football player (6-foot-2, 225 pounds), he’s got the toughness to go along with it.
The first week of the 2020 season at Cedar Bluff, his shoulder popped out of place and was hurting him, but he didn’t let that stop him playing. A couple of weeks later, he took a shot to his other shoulder, and it started bothering him.
But never once did he ask to sit out and recover.
“He said he could tough it out and play,” Spring Garden head coach Jason Howard said. “Luke wasn’t going to miss a snap because he didn’t want to let his teammates down. He was such a big part of everything we did. We just couldn’t say we’re not going to dress you for two weeks. He wouldn’t hear of it. He was adamant.”
Howard’s statement about Welsh being a big part of everything the Panthers (12-2) did last season is certainly not an exaggeration.
Not only did he lead the team in rushing with 1,368 yards and 13 touchdowns on 150 carries, but he was just as vital defensively. Welsh posted 117 tackles, including 13 for lost yardage, with a sack and an interception.
Howard even went on to say Welsh is an extension of Panther defensive coordinator Barrett Ragsdale on the field.
“He was really our vocal leader on defense. He held us together on defense,” Howard said. “Offensively we had a lot of weapons, but he was sort of our go-to whenever we needed something big.”
Welsh’s physical style of play, particularly on the defensive side of the football, makes him WEIS Radio’s choice for All-Cherokee County Defensive Player of the Year.
“I’m tickled to death for him. I think he’s well deserving of the honor and every honor he gets,” Howard said. “He’s a good kid, a good student, works hard at everything he does. That makes it even more special to see it when it’s a good kid who’s selected.”
Other than winning a state championship, there wasn’t much more Welsh could have accomplished his senior year. The Panthers won a region championship in their first season in Class 2A, which included a state semifinal appearance for the first time in school history.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Welsh played in Mobile in the North-South All-Star Football Game. He had five tackles with a pass breakup and a fumble recovery for the North.
Welsh said he’s humbled by having such a great senior season. He gives credit to his teammates and coaches for putting him in positions to make the plays and receive the accolades.
“There were a lot of people who were a big part of it,” Welsh said. “We had a well-rounded, physical defense this year. We had some hard-nosed guys who really accounted for a lot, a lot of veterans who knew what we needed to do.
“We pulled a lot of people in at D-line, kept them fresher than a lot of people who were bigger than us. That was a big deal. Our DBs (defensive backs) were good about covering. I just felt like our interior line could shut down the run and our DBs could shut down the pass. It goes back to the old saying ‘Defense wins games and offense sells tickets.’”
Welsh’s statement about the Panther ‘D’ certainly rings true. Spring Garden posted four shutouts on the scoreboard in 2020, five if you count the Red Bay game in the second round of the state playoffs.
In that game, the Panthers allowed only a safety.
And right there in the heart of the action making his impact felt was Welsh.
“He’s got enough closing speed that he’s big enough and strong enough to take on anything up the middle, but yet he plays from sideline to sideline,” Howard said. “He’s got that speed, and I think that’s what’s going to help him get to the next level.
“He’s got the look. When you look at Luke, when he walks in, you think ‘He’s a ball player.’ Part of it is good genes, but part of it is he works at it to keep that up. He fits the role physically when you look at him.”