By John Lind
Sports Information Assistant
PORTLAND, Ore. - In the midst of witnessing a spectacle, it often becomes difficult to step back and comprehend the permanence of history being cemented. In the game of football, coaches, players and fans alike are easily drawn into the moment, and recognition of overall impact often comes only in retrospect.
Despite a tough year due largely to a rigorous schedule (five games against teams ranked in the Top-30 nationally), Welch's 2013 season has been a career year in terms of offensive production. He leads the conference passing yards and yards/game, total offense, and total touchdowns.
Over his career, Welch's offensive success has been bolstered by his ability as a dual-threat quarterback. In 2010, his first full season under center for the Pioneers, Welch led the Northwest Conference in rushing, a feat almost unheard of for a quarterback. Subsequently, he has been near or at the top of the conference in most statistical passing categories, and has led the NWC in total offense twice.
Welch's road to winning the Pioneer starting quarterback job is a rather unconventional one. Outside of chance exceptions and personnel deficiencies, the tried and true method dictates young players working their way up the positional depth charts and eventually earning minutes as upperclassmen.
Coming to Lewis & Clark as a highly touted recruit from Fairfield High School in Vallejo, Calif., Welch began behind incumbent starter Tucker Laurence. Despite only seeing time in three games, Welch made an immediate impact by averaging 140 yards in total offense a game, good for second on the team. In his "coming out" game against Pomona-Pitzer Welch threw for 141 yards and ran for 87 yards and three touchdowns, solidifying his place as the quarterback of the future.
By the beginning of the 2010 season, Welch had essentially supplanted Laurence in the role of starting quarterback. He earned three NWC Offensive Player of the Week nods and was named First-Team All-NWC at the end of the season. On top of his personal accolades, the Pioneers also went 4-5, the team's first four-win season since 1996.
Welch continued to outdo himself into the 2011 season. Armed with an arsenal of talented skill players and a seasoned offensive line, the Pioneers won their first seven games of the season. Lewis & Clark averaged almost 40 points per game on offense and the team finished second in the NWC, their best finish in almost 20 years. Two consecutive losses to Willamette and Linfield derailed the Pioneers' playoff aspirations, but Welch was honored as NWC Offensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-NWC for the second consecutive year.
Welch's performance over his career stacks up not only against his competitors on the gridiron, but also in the Lewis & Clark and NWC records record books. He surpassed Trent Thompson's record of 9,720 yards of total offense during the Pioneer's 63-30 victory of Puget Sound. He later broke the all-time NWC record of 10,977 total yards set by Pacific Lutheran's Mark Weekly (1990-93) in a game this season against Pacific, solidifying his status as one of the best to ever play in the Northwest Conference. Welch ends his career with 11,480 yards of total offense.
After his 329 passing yard performance in the season finale against Whitworth, Welch vaulted into the top spot on the Lewis & Clark all-time passing yards list with 8,779. He is also the sixth leading all-time rusher for the Pioneers with 2,701 yards over his career.
Although Welch has been the main cog in the Lewis & Clark offense over his career, football teams do not succeed alone. Aside from giving the obvious credence to Pioneer coaches, the offensive linemen and a plethora of other notably potent weapons, Welch's especially strong 2013 season mirrors the season of Lewis & Clark wide receiver Andrew Frisina.
Frisina, also playing his final season, has been Welch's most consistent target over the course of the season. After sitting out the 2012 season due to injury, Frisina has been garnering attention across the NWC with his production. He leads the conference in virtually every major receiving category, and in most fields he holds a significant margin over any other individual receiver. To add icing to the cake, Frisina's 10.0 receptions per game total leads all of Division III football.
"Through Keith's athletic ability, leadership qualities, and care for those around him, he has helped lead the transformation of the Lewis & Clark College football program," said head coach Chris Sulages.
Frisina's consistency throughout the season has also helped him etch his name in the Lewis & Clark record books. Frisina tied the all-time season record of 80 receptions held by Bob Glanville since 1985 during the Pioneer's game on Nov. 2 against Pacific University. He subsequently surpassed Glanville in the Pioneer's season finale against Whitworth, finishing the season with 90.
On top of his 2013 receptions total, Frisina, has used this season to vault up the rankings of other Pioneer records. His performance against Whitworth pushed his career receiving yardage total to 1,911 good enough for fourth all-time.
Frisina's production is even more impressive considering that he followed the more traditional route of playing time through his Pioneer football career. A promising freshman receiver, he caught 18 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown his freshman year. However, Frisina's targets and overall production receded his sophomore year, catching only six passes on the season for 82 yards. He was used as a rusher given his size, agility and field vision, but only sparingly.
Frisina rebounded in 2011, finishing second on the team in receptions and receiving yards and tied for first with five touchdown catches. However, his senior season was delayed when he suffered a foot injury that kept him out for the entirety of 2012.