EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 5, 2013

Grappling with reality

Salem's Welch could be a collegiate powerhouse ... but only if steps up in the classroom

By Dave Dyer

---- — The real challenge is just starting for Roger Williams University freshman David Welch.

The 184-pounder from Salem, N.H.,has proven that he can more than make the grade on the mat, but now he must show that he can make it, on a consistent basis, in the classroom.

Realizing that his very promising wrestling career is at stake, he knows that hitting the books must be his top priority.

“I just have to focus on academics if I want to achieve my goals in wrestling,” said Welch, who just completed an outstanding 32-4 rookie season. “I have to stay on top of my academics. I know I can do better (in school) than I have been.”

Welch, who wrestled for two years at Tilton after leaving Salem High, couldn’t have done much better on the mat. With two all-star captains at 184 and 197, he alternated between weights and excelled at each.

He was competitive with the best upper weight Division 3 wrestlers from around New England. At the recent Pilgrim League Futures Tournament, he was dominant, cruising to a title with two major decisions, a technical fall and a pin.

“After my first tournament, I had a losing record and I had to figure things out,” said Welch. “But things started getting better and I’m happy I only had four losses. I just hope to keep improving.”

Roger Williams coach Jon Egan is confident that will happen and can’t say enough about the level Welch already has reached.

“He had probably the most dominant freshman year I’ve seen on this level,” said Egan. “Next season, I don’t see anyone stopping him — not on this team, this conference or in the country.”

But Egan does give a little caution.

“If I can keep him focused (on academics) for four years, the sky is the limit,” he said.

Academics derailed Welch before. He wrestled for Salem as a freshman and sophomore, but he was ineligible as a junior and senior.

“I just wasn’t a good student and I couldn’t put the pieces together,” said Welch. “I was very upset because wrestling was my passion and I wasn’t able to do it. Then I started getting into trouble.”

But Welch got a break when Tilton accepted him to a program for low-achieving, high-potential students.

“When I went there to tour the campus, I felt there was no way I could get in, but they gave me a second chance,” he said. “I got a lot of extra help. There were other students who were behind and there was a lot of structure, which I needed.”

In two years at Tilton, Welch said he got his grades up to a 3.0 GPA while thriving on the mat. His two-year record was 66-5 and he placed seventh at Prep nationals.

The combination of academic structure and his involvement in wrestling turned things around for Welch.

“Wrestling has completely changed the way I am,” he said. “It keeps me focused, keeps me involved and makes me realize what I have to do to be successful and not go back to my old ways.”

But old habits can sometimes be hard to break. Although he was eligible for the entire season at Roger Williams, it was just barely. His grade-point average was just 1.75 (1.70 is required) and he needed to take an extra course to remain eligible.

“The first semester was tough,” admitted Welch, who works out at Smitty’s Barn in the offseason and is good friends with ex-Timberlane great Zach Bridson. “There was so much reading and I’m not a good reader.

“Plus, I didn’t know the importance of meeting with my teachers. I’m doing that now and I think I’ll do a lot better the rest of the year.

“The coach gave us a card before the year and told us to write down our goals and I said I want to win nationals by my senior year. But I know I have to stay eligible and I’m going to do it.”

If recognizing the problem is half the battle, Welch is well on his way to winning it.

Rising standout After not wrestling his last two years at Salem High, David Welch: Won two New England Prep titles, placed at Prep nationals and went 66-5 in two years at Tilton School Completed 32-4 season at Roger Williams College and won the Pilgrim League Futures Tournament