IOWA CITY — As he tells it, Iola, Wis., fits every stereotype.
“There are about four streets in it and five taverns,” Iowa linebacker Kristian Welch said. “They always make fun of small towns in Wisconsin having more bars than anything else.”
This particular town in the north-central part of the state features taverns, most certainly some assortment of cheeses (back to the stereotypes) and a pretty darned good Big Ten Conference middle linebacker.
Welch led Iowa’s stingy defense with 12 tackles, 10 solos, in a 19-10 win Saturday afternoon over Illinois at Kinnick Stadium. The senior was a disruptive player, forcing a key fumble midway through the fourth quarter in what was a one-possession game, then picking up a walk-off sack of substitute Illinois quarterback Matt Robinson on the final play.
This was extra special for a guy who missed a month of action with a shoulder stinger. Welch finally returned to the starting lineup last week against Minnesota and led his team in tackles.
He actually leads the Hawkeyes in that category overall despite missing three games.
“It means everything, just being a senior,” Welch said. “How hard you work for it, the offseason, with a lot of stuff you guys don’t necessarily see. The long days of camp, the training sessions, all that. Getting injured is obviously frustrating, because you work so hard for those moments in those games. To come back and play well, it’s never perfect, I understand that. But to play well means everything.”
Welch played as a true freshman special teamer in 2016 and ascended to a starting role at middle and weakside linebacker last season. He has put it all together this season, been a stalwart in the middle of a tremendous Hawkeyes defense.
When he’s been able to go.
“He’s done a good job, don’t get me wrong, but this is the year where it started to really click for him,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “We played him on special teams right off the bat ... Then just when it’s starting to click, he gets hurt. How disappointing is that? But for him to finish up these last two games in Kinnick, these will be great memories for him, and he’s still got two (games) to go. It’s a real credit to him.”
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“Mentally, I had to stay ready,” Welch said. “But I never knew physically when I was going to be able to go out there.”
Welch’s roommmate is quarterback Nate Stanley, by the way, another Wisconsinite.
“Nate and I, we roomed in the dorms, we’ve lived together now three years (outside) the dorms,” Welch said. “We know each other like brothers. We just hang out like we’re not even on the team. You know what I mean? We’ll go and do outdoors stuff together: shoot guns at the range. We’re just like people. We hang out that way, talk about football every now and then. But we’re just roomie buddies.”
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