Striving for Greatness
Football records fall as Keith Welch and Andrew Frisina close out their final season with the Pios.
It may seem strange to view a broken arm as a fortuitous circumstance, but that’s how it turned out for a four-year stretch of Lewis & Clark football that will be widely remembered as the Keith Welch Era.
Welch completed a record-setting career as quarterback for Lewis & Clark in 2013, highlighted by his being named one of the 10 finalists for the Gagliardi Trophy for Division III football’s most outstanding student-athlete. (The Gagliardi Trophy is widely considered the Heisman of Division III football.)
But going back to the beginning, it was a broken bone in his nonthrowing arm that led Welch, a graduate of Fairfield High in Vallejo, California, to choose the Pioneers.
“During my senior year of high school, I was getting heavily recruited by some big-name schools, but in the second game of the season, I broke my arm,” Welch says. “All of those schools stopped showing interest … except Lewis & Clark. The coaches at Lewis & Clark never stopped believing in me.”
And the Lewis & Clark coaching staff, led by head coach Chris Sulages, was rewarded for its diligence.
Welch created instant excitement at Lewis & Clark, helped make the Pios relevant again in the Northwest Conference, and became the school’s most prolific passer. The player that teammates and coaches know as “Bub” finished his career with 11,480 yards of total offense, 8,779 passing yards, and 74 touchdown passes—to name just a few of his school records.
From the beginning, Welch took charge and became a dangerous weapon as both a runner and a passer. He also developed a special chemistry with Andrew Frisina of San Pedro, California, a standout eight-man football player from a small California prep school who, like Welch, leaves Lewis & Clark with numerous school records.
Off the field, Welch and Frisina turned almost any opportunity imaginable into a game of catch.
Keith Welch Records
Career Northwest Conference
- Pass Completions: No. 1
- Total Offense Yards: No. 1
- All-Time in Passing Yards: No. 2
Lewis & Clark
- Total Offense Yards: 11,480
- Passing Yards: 8,779
- Pass Completions: 719
- Touchdown Passes: 74
- Total Offense Touchdowns: 121 (74 passing, 47 rushing)
- Total Offense Yards: 3,128
- Pass Attempts: 412
- Touchdown Passes: 28 (ties record of Mike Fanger BS ’89)
“A lot of chemistry gets built on the field, but I think an equal amount gets built off the field,” Frisina says. “Footballs weren’t the only things that Bub would throw to me. We trusted each other enough to play catch with a five-pound tub of Red Vines in front of a 50-inch TV.”
Frisina’s sure hands were Welch’s most dependable target.
“Having a receiver like (Frisina) gives you confidence and gives you a safety blanket because you know that if no one is open you can throw to him,” Welch says. “He was like a brother to me. I would spend the night at his house every weekend.”
Throughout the rest of the week, Welch worked with his coaches on becoming a better quarterback.
“Welch went from a guy with a lot of potential to a seasoned quarterback who could make the difficult throws, throw on time, and also beat you with his feet,” Sulages says.
In 2011, Welch led the Pios to their first seven-win season in 22 years. The past two seasons, with depth issues and injuries depleting the team, Lewis & Clark finished 4-5 and 1-8.
But Welch’s competitive fire remained hot to the end, and that’s how he’d like to be remembered after he completes his degree in rhetoric and media studies.”
“I think my class made a huge impact on the program,” Welch says. “We showed the Northwest Conference that Lewis & Clark is no pushover and that we have some real talent on the hill. If I can leave Lewis & Clark with any type of legacy, it would be that when I stepped on the field, the opposing team knew it was going to be in a battle because we were going to fight until the end.”
Sulages concurs, describing Welch’s impact on the program in slightly different words: “He raised the competition level for the program. He showed that you’ve got to compete at a high level at all times, in practices and in games. And his level of competition rubbed off on the other guys.”
Postseason awards and accolades are another way to chart Welch’s impact and the forward progress of the program. At the conclusion of the 2013 season, Sulages, Welch, and Frisina all took part in the All-American Bowl in Mexico City and wore the jerseys of the U.S.A.
Sulages was part of the coaching staff at the December 14 game pitting the U.S.’s small-college stars against all-stars from Mexico.
And yes, there was one moment in the game, a 30-15 win for the Mexico team, that was a moment for the Pios: a lone completion from Welch to Frisina. —by Doug Binder
Editor’s Note: At press time, Welch announced he will play professional football in Italy for the Ancona Dolphins after graduation.