Hawaii receiver Gerald Welch has made the transition from star at Saint Louis School to substitute for the Warriors.

Welch handles
backup role well

The former Saint Louis standout
has been a dependable performer
for the Warriors

It's not always easy to make a graceful transition from the role of Mr. Spectacular to that of Mr. Dependable, but Hawaii senior slotback Gerald Welch has managed it well.

Welch was nearly as big a star as his former and current teammate Timmy Chang when both received prep All-America recognition at Saint Louis School. Now, five years later, Welch battles for playing time while Chang pursues the all-time NCAA passing yardage record.

Chang has been Welch's teammate and friend since intermediate school.

"He's so experienced, been in the offense so long. He helps us out in a lot of ways, knowing where to go, coming up with big catches, blocking. He can do it all," Chang said. "He's the kind of guy you love to have as a friend. As a player, he has that veteran-ship."

Welch played in Saturday's 35-28 season-opening loss to Florida Atlantic after starter Se'e Poumele was injured in the second quarter. Welch caught five passes for 47 yards, and provided a physical presence in a game that demanded it.

"The word I like to use with Gerald is 'tough,' " UH receivers coach Ron Lee said of the three-time state wrestling champion. "They whacked us, they hit us. We lost three or four receivers. Gerald's a very nice guy off the field, but he loves the physical game. His blocking was tremendous Saturday. He made some tremendous blocks. He took some tremendous shots and he gave some out."

Warriors coach June Jones said he expects all the banged up receivers, including Poumele, to be available a week from tomorrow at Rice (UH has a bye this week). That means Welch goes back to the bench. He is still appreciated by the head coach, though.

"Gerald's one of the great kids you'll ever be around. When he's called to do his job, he does it. He's been a solid, solid player for us," Jones said.

Welch handles his substitute role well, but it took some getting used to after his stellar high school career.

"It was kinda tough. I wasn't used to playing behind anybody. But when I got here, I was behind Craig (Stutzmann). And I didn't help myself by coming in overweight," he said.

Welch also suffered a knee injury that kept him out of action in 2002, and many wondered if he'd ever become a productive player.

He battled back, and started every game last year after Nate Ilaoa's knee injury in the season opener. Despite catching 43 passes for 462 yards and four touchdowns, Welch was relegated to reserve status in the spring and fall camps this year.

"He never complains. When you need him, he's right there ready to go," said Lee, who also coached Welch in high school. "He's ready when you call him and he steps right in."

Welch is close to a degree in history, and is married (Dominique) with a son (Harvey) and another child on the way. He has the game in perspective, but also considers himself fortunate to have another year of football -- whatever his role.

"I'm kind of excited I'll get to play more than I expected. I'm ready, and when (Poumele and Ilaoa) come back I'll support any decision Coach makes. Up to then I'm just going to do my part and try to help the team win somehow," Welch said. "Football helps to take care of my family, it put me through school. I'll probably never play football again after this season. Not too many people get school for free, and a chance to play football and travel around the United States. So I just relish the moments."

Short yardage: Former UH special teams coach Dennis McKnight has visited practice the past two days. The high school team he coaches in California has a bye this week. ... Sophomore defensive end Nkeruwem Akpan still has a sprained ankle and might not play at Rice. ... Senior receiver Britton Komine has taken some reps at slotback this week. ... The Warriors have today and tomorrow off before returning to practice Sunday at 4 p.m.



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