Lucas at Large: Pushed for first time, Welch dealing with pressure

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FB_110817_Welch_Philip.jpegA couple of years ago, UW placekicker Philip Welch was struggling.

On the recommendation of Taylor Mehlhaff, a former Badger specialist and 2007 All-American, Welch read a book and got himself back on track.

A couple of weeks ago, Welch was struggling.

 He reread a book -- the book that Mehlhaff originally recommended.

"It applies to a lot of things,'' said Welch, a senior from Fort Collins, Colo.

The soft-spoken Welch, who tends to measure his words, has gotten considerable mileage out of the book, "The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance.''

Welch wasn't necessarily looking to improve his serve and volley, either.

Timothy Gallwey wrote the book; one in an "Inner Game'' series dealing with various limitations that can keep an athlete from success; such as self-doubt, nervousness and lapses of concentration.

Gallwey's training approach is not just limited to sports. But placekickers are a pretty good study, if not starting point.

Nobody seemingly deals with the "Inner Game'' more than specialists.

Chapter One for Welch could be entitled: "Trusting your body and/or leg and letting it happen.''
In Welch's own words, "Stop telling your body what to do and just do what comes natural.''

That would have been so much easier if Welch hadn't strained the quadriceps in his kicking leg.

It happened over the summer, and he has been paying the price for the injury in training camp.

"I was doing a lot of things wrong with crossing over too much and not getting enough hip through the ball,'' Welch said, "and I ended up just overworking my leg.''

Despite having already proven himself as a college kicker -- one of the best in school history -- Welch admitted that he felt the "pressure of going into the season and wanting to have a perfect year.''

The pressure has since magnified with the emergence of Kyle French, who has been pushing Welch. French is a redshirt freshman from Menomonee Falls.

"I feel more pressure on me right now,'' said Welch, "than I did gaining my spot my redshirt freshman year (2008). But I'm usually good with pressure. I usually handle it well.''

That was the case in '08, when Welch converted on 20 of 24 field goal attempts; the third-best single-season percentage (.833) at Wisconsin. His career percentage (.771) ranks No. 2 at UW.

But this is really the first time that Welch has been pushed competitively to hold on to his job.

"In high school, I was the only kicker,'' he said, "and I put all the pressure on myself.''

Welch reiterated that he sees the pressure "as something that gets me motivated.''

What about the "inner game'' of lining up a field goal on the field?

"If I handle it mentally well,'' he said, "I'm usually happy with the kick even if I don't make it.''

What does that "inner game'' entail for Welch before the kick?

"I'm trying to think about not thinking,'' he said. "I kind of program myself to go numb -- just letting my body take over and do whatever comes natural.''

In a different context, UW punter Brad Nortman was asked about the "inner games'' that he may have played, particularly during his formative years as a college specialist.

"Even though a lot of people questioned me, especially my freshman year,'' Nortman said, "I never really questioned myself. I don't think I ever wondered, 'Should I be here?'''

Detailing his own confidence going into his senior year, he said, "It's not like I'm spinning the roulette wheel and hoping the bounce is going to be good.

"I've put a lot of time into it, so it really comes down to preparation. If you prepare yourself, there's nothing to be worried about.

"I believe firmly in the philosophy of working hard. I extend that to all things in my life. I work hard in the classroom and on the field. It's truly the key to success and I try to embody that.''

Northman believes this can be a special season, not only for the specialists, but for the Badgers.

 "It's important for guys to remember we're a team,'' he said, "and we're doing this together.''

Nobody realizes that more than Welch.

 Who has kept him motivated during this bumpy stretch in camp?

"The whole team,'' he said softly.

1 Comment

Keep your head down and follow through. Approach every kick the same in practice as well as a last second game winner against Nebraska. Every practice session should include making ten successful kicks imagining they are last second game winners. Then do the same in the game. Piece of Cake! And it didn't hurt me to remember it is only a game not life or death so have fun and do your best!

ON WISCONSIN