If he were a big-time schmoozer, Matt Welch would have been in the main office at South Portland High two or three times a day this week, chatting up the staff and eyeballing the 50-pound trophy.
But that’s not Welch.
He doesn’t get summonsed for heart-to-heart talks with Principal Jeanne Crocker. He has no reason for walking through the office door. So he thought of one.
“I needed a box of tissues. They keep a supply in the office.”
Welch got his box and took the opportunity again to look at the sculpted trophy of a football lineman. “It’s beautiful. I still can’t believe how big it is,” said Welch. “I can’t believe my name is on it.”
At Sunday’s brunch at the Augusta Civic Center, Welch was asked to step forward to receive the inaugural Frank J. Gaziano Memorial Offensive Lineman Award. Nate Martel, a Bonny Eagle High senior, received the Defensive Lineman Award. College scholarships of $2,500 each came with the awards, as did smaller, crystal trophies the players keep.
The two larger trophies are to be displayed at each high school. Monday, South Portland football coach Steve Stinson lugged the trophy into the high school. And listened when the announcement was made that Monday would be Matt Welch Day at the school.
Applause and a few cheers spilled out of classrooms near where Stinson stood. He’s worked hard to restore a once-proud program. Welch’s recognition was a payoff.
“(Welch) probably wanted to curl up under his chair,” said Crocker. “In a down-low way he’s such a great kid. He doesn’t call attention to himself and the other kids love that.”
It’s not too hard to explain how the recognition given to Welch has rippled through his school community. As Crocker observed the past two seasons, success on the football field Friday nights or Saturday afternoons transforms into a week of smiles in school corridors. South Portland once had a football program to emulate. Then it was lost.
Bonny Eagle is two seasons removed from its last state title but it’s the gold standard for consistency South Portland once was. Martel was on the radar because he played at Bonny Eagle.
Welch was plucked from anonymity when his name was announced. Opponents knew who he was, but not high school fans outside South Portland.
Thursday afternoon, before he headed for track practice, Welch remembered walking off the field with a teammate who was a running back. “He asked me, ‘How do you play the line. No one knows who you are, you’re not going to get the credit, you’re not going to get a girlfriend “
I backed Welch up. What did you say?
“Chicks don’t dig linemen,” said Welch, although now he was laughing. “They don’t.”
He was the nerve center of South Portland’s offensive line as a junior and senior. Stinson tried starting Welch at center as a junior but Welch was so explosive getting into his blocks he snapped the ball too quickly, too often. He was shifted to left tackle, where he would stand, pointing out defenders and blocking assignments.
After a run of losing seasons, South Portland went 4-4 in Welch’s junior year. This year the team made the playoffs with a 5-3 record before losing its first game.
“The trophy isn’t what’s important,” said Welch. “It was making the playoffs.”
He’s an honor student heading to Bates College and at about 235 pounds, not overly large. He doesn’t get the call from central casting for a teenage lineman.
As Sunday’s program came to an end, Welch was asked to join South Portland natives Ed McAleney, and brothers Bob and Charlie Hews for a photo. The three older linemen had all-star careers in high school and college, dating back more than 40 years. Welch was thrilled to be in their company although he winced when he saw the photo. “Who’s the dwarf?”
He played big. That’s what matters.
This has been a week to remember, although hearing that Monday was Matt Welch Day caught him by surprise. Students don’t get singled out at South Portland High that way.
“It was pretty cool to walk down the halls and everyone saying congratulations wanting to shake your hand. But it was for the program, not me.”
Even if he does want to sneak another peek at the trophy.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: