Spring Garden senior football player Luke Welsh remembers attending North-South All-Star football games in years past with his granddad Dale Welsh. Back then, he imagined what it would be like to play in one.
He’s about to find out.
Welsh was selected in October as a member for this year’s North squad, along with Piedmont’s Jakari Foster and Sean Smith. The game is this Friday at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile at 7 p.m. The players departed for practice on Tuesday morning.
Welsh is the first Panther football player selected to play in the contest. His football coach, Jason Howard, coached in the event in 2015. His basketball coach, Ricky Austin, was a player in the North-South basketball contest back in 1984.
“It just kind of caught me by surprise,” Welsh said when he learned of his selection. “With everything that’s been going on this year, I didn’t really expect it or was thinking about that. My daddy (Mark Welsh) called me when I was out eating one night and told me. It was just a big surprise. I’m really honored to be able to showcase our school. I just think it’s great.”
Welsh ran for 1,368 yards and 13 touchdowns as a fullback for the Panthers (12-2) this season, their first in Class 2A. He also posted 117 total tackles (98 solo, 19 assists), including 13 for lost yardage, with a sack and an interception. Welsh is listed as a linebacker on the North roster, but he could also see playing time as a long snapper and at tight end.
“I’m happy with that. I’d be happy playing anywhere, just to play one more high school football game. That makes it really awesome,” Welsh said.
“I’m pretty nervous to be honest. It’s just a big stage. I’m not a real outspoken person, so it’s going to be a little bit of a transition meeting new people, getting a little chemistry these next two or three days at practice. It’s going to be a little culture change for me, but I’m going to embrace it and make the best of it.”
Welsh, who is being recruited by Berry, Shorter, Union (Ky.) and Bethel (Tenn.), said it’s an honor for him to be playing alongside and against some of the best players Alabama has to offer. Many of them are going to the next level, some of them on to Southeastern Conference and other Division I schools.
“I know I probably won’t ever have the chance to play at one of the big schools. It would be awesome, but it gives me a little pride I was selected and somebody thought I was good enough to be picked over some guys (not on the roster) who are still going (to the big schools), and to be playing with some guys who are going. Maybe this will be my lucky break. I might can catch a break and join them.
“It’s pretty neat. I played against some of these guys in playoff games who are really good and are going to big schools. It was always a challenge to me (playing against them). Now I’m going to be playing with these guys on my team and against those guys. It’ll make it fun. I think it’ll really be a good football game with a lot of talent.”
Howard and Austin have both told Welsh to soak up the atmosphere as much as he can and just have fun.
“I still get texts from the kids that I coached when I coached in it,” Howard said. “Those relationships are going to be real special and lifelong for him. It is a good way for him to end his high school career and start preparing to play at the next level.
“We’re proud of him. The whole community is proud of him. We know he’s going to represent us real well down there. I hope he goes down there, gets some attention, and lets people know who he is. We told him there are going to be a lot of kids down there that have not heard of Spring Garden, so you make sure they know where Spring Garden is at.”
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