By Paul Klee The Gazette
DENVER – Rod Warner can’t remember exactly the first time it happened, only that Wes Welker always yanked off his helmet before he threw up.
It wasn’t just a one-time thing, either. In high school at Heritage Hall in Oklahoma City, Welker puked on the football field fairly often.
“After he scored the touchdown, he would lean over and pull his helmet off and throw up,” Rod Warner said. “Then he would kick the extra point.”
Wesley Carter Welker, the big-splash signing of the free agency period, comes to the Broncos with one heck of a story. It is filled with lots of little stories, like that one. They are stories that could fill one heck of a book.
Here’s another good one, courtesy of Warner, the football coach at Heritage Hall when Welker was a 5-foot-7 high school kid. On the Saturday prior to national signing day, his coach faxed 105 letters to 105 college coaching staffs.
“I only got about four or five calls back,” Warner said.
The letters told the story of Welker’s stunning prep career: 80 touchdowns (as a running back), 22 interceptions (as a free safety), 35 field goals (as the placekicker).
In one memorable game he had three touchdowns, an interception and a 47-yard field goal. That happened to be the biggest game, the Class 2A state championship game.
“He has the school record with 581 tackles, assisted or unassisted,” said Andy Bogert, the offensive coordinator at the time. “Think about that for a second.”
Then think about this: When signing day rolled around, Welker had zero scholarship offers. Not one. The week before, he took a recruiting visit to Tulsa. Didn’t get a scholarship offer.
It wasn’t until a recruit backed out from his commitment to Texas Tech that a college program found room for Welker.
“The knock on Wes was that he’s too small, too slow,” Bogert said.
I could almost hear Bogert shaking his head over the phone from Oklahoma.
“Coaches didn’t want him. They took his lack of size and said he was too slow,” Warner said. “My argument was, ‘Then how come no one can catch him?’”
I can almost hear Peyton Manning shaking with anticipation.
There is an edge about Welker, and there had to be. Division I coaches didn’t want him. The NFL didn’t want him. Welker wasn’t invited to the combine and wasn’t drafted.
The Patriots didn’t want him.
Welker caught 672 passes in six seasons with the Patriots, the most of any pass-catcher in the NFL over that period. Here’s what I remember, though. At least once per game, Welker endures a jarring tackle that made me think: He’s not getting up from that one.
He always got up from that one.
The Ravens knocked the Broncos to a frozen field and out of the playoffs. The Broncos have to get up from that one. As the bitter cold set in and the playoff game wore on, the Broncos seemed to play as if their nasty streak was frostbitten.
Welker plays as if those coaches still don’t think he’s good enough. The guy who wasn’t big enough now is synonymous with the most dangerous position on offense: slot receiver.
“I think you have to have a little something about you,” Welker said.
Adding Welker to a juggernaut offense isn’t simply a luxury the Broncos could afford.
After seeing the Ravens punk the Broncos with an edge of nastiness, adding a tough guy was a necessity. Welker is known to push his limits past the point of nausea.
“He’s been there so many times with the Patriots, he’s got an extreme amount of experience in the playoffs,” VP of operations John Elway said. “That’s also going to help us.”
For every doubt, Welker has had a response. Here is an educated guess that the Patriots saying he was expendable will be the latest slight to motivate him.
As an undrafted rookie in training camp with the Chargers, Welker wasn’t getting any time with the first-team offense.
“So he just walked into the huddle. Then he lines up about 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage,” Warner said. “One of the coaches goes: ‘Welker, what are you doing?’
“He’s lining up and running the play the other way. He had to make sure he got his reps.”
At the end of practice in high school, in a sprinting drill, Welker dived headfirst across the finish line to secure first place.
“Wes is a very, very unusual individual,” said Warner, the high school coach. “Football is in his DNA. His DNA is made up of little footballs.”
Good story, right?
It’s not over yet.