By Dave Krider
To the average fan, at least, a pin is the pinnacle (pardon the pun) for a high school wrestler.
If that’s true, however, Jason Welch is quite unusual, because he plays what appears to be a “cat-and-mouse” game with each opponent. He’ll bring him to the mat, then let him up. He’ll repeat that maneuver again and again until he gets ahead by 15 points and achieves his ultimate goal – a technical fall.
Welch, a 5-foot-10, 162-pound senior from Las Lomas in Walnut Creek, Calif., is the No. 1 recruit in the nation this year, according to InterMatwrestle.com. Featured writer Jason Bryant told MaxPreps that the Northwestern University signee is “athletic, quick, well-conditioned and incredibly tough to score on.”
Bob Preusse, who is the high school columnist for Amateur Wrestling News, calls Welch “a phenom. He has the ‘X’ factor that you can’t put your finger on. He does things you can’t teach. He’s almost double-jointed.”
Welch backs up this high praise with a current streak of 119 consecutive victories. He was 45-5 as a freshman at 145 pounds and placed second in the state; he was 50-2 as a sophomore at 152 pounds and won the state; and he was 50-0 at 162 pounds as a junior and won the state. This year he stands 38-0 at 162 pounds with the state tourney still ahead of him.
Welch, who appears to have more moves than a can of worms, explained, “When I was in middle school, I never was very good at pinning people. I was always a skinny guy and couldn’t gain weight. I never tried to get pins because I probably couldn’t,” he laughed.
He guessed that he has about eight pins this year.
“He doesn’t pin people – he just attacks them,” says John Welch, who is his father and head coach. “He has so many ways he can attack you; so many weapons. He’s so fluid. He just floats so well. He’s just on another level right now compared to other high school kids.”
The younger Welch, who estimates that his matches average about 3 ½ minutes (each match can go six minutes), puts it this way: “It’s no fun to just wrestle for 30 seconds. I definitely have got to work on all my moves. It’s one thing to try in practice, but getting out on the mat (in actual matches) is another level.”
He definitely is an instinctive wrestler, conceding, “I have been on the mat for so long that some of the stuff comes naturally.” Being extremely flexible is another major plus. He points out, “I can almost do the splits.”
Las Lomas assistant coach David Yi affirmed, “He is able to get a lot more pins, but you don’t really get anything out of the match. He’s working his moves and getting the mat time he needs to perfect his moves. It’s not like he’s playing with these guys. He has a lot of confidence, but he doesn’t go out too confident or too cocky. That’s just his style.”
As great as he is on the mat, Welch is an outstanding all-around athlete. His father got him started in wrestling (Pleasant Hill Wrestling Club) at age seven and soccer at age eight. Later on he picked up football. The senior Welch explained, “He was a very hyper kid, so it (sports) was a good outlet for him.” That “hyperness” probably is one of the big reasons that he has been so successful, because he never stops working.
John Welch admits, “I’m amazed that he has been able to maintain his work ethic. As a kid he would work out four or five hours a day.” Jason agrees, “When I don’t have something to do during the day, it’s weird. Working out three to five hours a day is intertwined with my personality.”
The younger Welch got his first taste of national competition as a sixth grader when he split four matches during a tournament in Kansas City, Mo. The next year he won the freestyle nationals in San Jose, Calif. The summer before he entered ninth grade, he placed fourth at 145 pounds during the prestigious national tourney in Fargo, N.D, winning eight matches in two days.
At that point he noted, “I realized I had a chance to do something, but I wasn’t really sure until the end of ninth grade.”
As a high school freshman he came under the tutelage of David Yi. He calls Yi his idol, explaining, “He has really been a big key for my success. I don’t know where I’d be without him.”
Yi first saw his freshman star as “an above-average high school wrestler. He had a lot of good potential because of his demeanor, personality and how he worked, but I never saw him being No. 1 in the nation.”
Today Yi says, “He is willing to learn and put work in with no excuses. He is more mature than a lot of adults. Now he’s a lot stronger and definitely could get pins if he wants to. What makes him strong is that he uses his body and leverage. It’s more positioning and elusiveness that make him strong. (Getting technical falls) shows more dominance than a pin. You have to work to get 15 points.”
Welch did reach the state-championship match as a freshman, but suffered an 11-2 loss. As a sophomore he made national headlines by winning the 152-pound class at the Ironman – the nation’s No. 1 tournament. “That was my first tourney of the year,” he pointed out. “It made me confident that I could go out and win the state.”
He not only did win his first California state title as a sophomore, but he beat talented Luke Manuel (Grass Valley Nevada Union), 8-3, in the finale. That gave him a 2-1 edge over Manuel, who now is at Purdue University.
As a junior Welch wrestled at a heavier weight (171) in the Foothill Tournament just so he could get a crack at defending state champion Louis Bland of Modesto Central Catholic. He beat Bland in the semifinals en route to the championship. Later he notched his second straight California crown to complete a spectacular undefeated campaign.
Thus far this year he has won four tournaments, including the prestigious Tournament of Champions in Reno, Nev. He was the only high school wrestler invited to The Midlands Tournament, a college affair sponsored by his future school, Northwestern. He won six of nine matches at 157 pounds to place sixth against a tough array of collegians.
He continues “to put pressure on myself” to extend his long winning streak all the way through the upcoming state tournament.
Welch’s success in wrestling is even more remarkable when it is pointed out that he also plays soccer during the same season. Playing the midfield helps give him “quick feet and definitely gets me in good shape,” he noted. He goes to wrestling practice each day at and soccer practice at
He had to report late for both sports that past two years because he also was a defensive tackle in football. He made all-county as a senior despite weighing only 165 pounds. “It’s hard, but definitely worth it,” he says of his break-neck schedule. “I really love it.”
And when he’s not playing three high school sports, he’s deep into his favorite hobby. He’s a typical California surfer!
Welch carries a 3.2 GPA, with psychology being his favorite subject. He plans to major in English at Northwestern and become a high school teacher.
Prior to starting his teaching career, however, Welch should add some more major chapters to his brilliant wrestling resume.
Coach Yi emphasizes, “I’m very confident in his abilities. His potential is untapped in the college ranks – maybe past college. Internationally, I can’t see a cap. If he puts the time in, I could see him at the Olympic level. He has a wide range of other interests, but he’s not scared of hard work.”