April 23, 2008
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Future Wildcat Jason Welch (Walnut Creek, Calif./Las Lomas) has been named the winner of the Junior Dan Hodge Trophy -- an award presented to the nation's top high school wrestler. Welch, a three-time California state champion and owner of a 194-7 high school record, signed an NLI in November and will join the Wildcats this fall.
Welch was only the 13th wrestler in the state of California to win three championships. He ended his high school season on a 142-match winning streak and a 194-7 career record.
The Junior Dan Hodge Trophy is presented by Wrestling International Newsmagazine and the Amateur Athletic Union. It is named after the former Oklahoma national champion and is presented to the nation's top high school wrestler.
Three-time Cal champ Jason Welch wins Junior Hodge
By Mike Finn, W.I.N. Editor
The one common thing about Jason Welch and his father, John, is that both California natives realized that they had to give up something if they wanted Jason to be great at wrestling.
For Jason, it was one of the many sports he played in as a youth growing up in the northern California city of Walnut Creek.
"I had played other sports, too," Jason recalled. "By middle school, I just picked the ones I thought I was good at. Wrestling and soccer were my favorites and what I did well."
Just this year alone, Jason played soccer at the same time of year he wrestled.
"Looking back, it might have been a little crazy. I guess I was used to doing a lot of stuff. We had wrestling 3:30 to 6 and soccer from 7 to 9," said Jason, who also won all-league honors, shortly after he earned all-state honors playing football.
"When I got to high school, I didn't want to play football but my Dad talked me into it and I'm happy that I did now."
For John, who introduced his son to the sport when Jason was in diapers -- "At one month old, he was in the corner with me," said John, the coach at Las Lomas High School -- it was giving up his son to the sport.
It happened over three years ago when Jason lost to Luke Manuel -- a native of Nevada City, Calif., and current Purdue Boilermaker -- in the finals of the Five Counties championship.
"When (Jason) was a sophomore, the expectation levels became pretty high," recalled John. "He was getting to a point where I was pushing him. He got a loss at a tournament and he was done. He was tired with the pressure and the competition and having everyone on him.
"Luckily, I got some good coaches on him and backed off and let him figure things out his own way."
With the help of former collegiate wrestlers Casey Strand (Arizona State) and David Yi (UC Davis), the younger Welch definitely figured out what was important when it came to wrestling.
And in the process, Jason Welch became the 13th wrestler in the state of California -- which features just one classification -- to win three state championships for Las Lomas High School. The Manuel loss would be Jason's last as a prep as he also ended his high school season with a 142-match winning streak and a 194-7 career record.
And among his final honors was the presentation of the Junior Dan Hodge Trophy to Jason. The honor, which is presented by W.I.N. and the Amateur Athletic Union, is named after the former Oklahoma national champion and given to the nation's top high school wrestler.
"I'm highly impressed with Jason's technical skills on the mat," said W.I.N. publisher Bryan Van Kley, who witnessed Jason finish sixth at the college-dominated Midlands last December. "Anyone who has the guts to compete in the Midlands as a high school senior and place is in a category of his own. And I've heard a lot of good things about him as a person when I talk to people from California.
"A lot of people keep comparing his personality and technical skills to the late Dave Schultz. He's a very worthy recipient of the the Jr. Dan Hodge Trophy."
Thinking of those who preceded Jason was on his mind when he won his first California state championship as a sophomore.
"I just thinking about the people who came before me who did it," Jason said. "I like seeing what they accomplished. It made my dreams and aspirations not so much a dream but a goal."
And Jason has plenty of other goals ahead of him, including the next four years when he will be competing at Northwestern University, the site of the Midlands.
"It was definitely a confidence booster; just knowing that I can compete with those guys right now," Jason said. "It makes me train harder and get ready for next year."
Jason expects to compete as a true freshman for the Wildcats.
"I've always wanted to challenge myself," said Jason, who has a 3.3 GPA at Las Lomas. "It would be fun to redshirt, but I'm anxious to get out there.
"I just like the area, the people. I love Evanston. Chicago is nearby. I love the coaches and believe that they will take care of me. I feel that I really fit in with the kids on the team. Other than being far away from home and the winters being colder, there is no down-side to me."
And even though Evanston, Ill., sits alongside Lake Michigan, Jason will have to give up another one of his loves: surfing.
"It's his relaxation," laughed John. "He loves being on the water. It's very peaceful even if he doesn't catch the wave."
John has been fortunate to measure Jason as both an athlete and son.
"I think he is very natural," John said. "I see him being able to pick up on things quickly. He can pretty much rise to a lot of different levels. He loves the sport.
"What makes me proud of him is just being the person that he is. He's a very humble person. He won't say anything good about himself. Nobody will know about him winning the Junior Hodge unless I say something about it myself.
"He's humble but he is also very proud. That's what makes him pretty good on the mat. He doesn't want to lose.
"He has a very good outlook on life."
To read the full article from W.I.N. Magazine, click here.