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Hunter Welcing’s journey from hockey player to Northwestern football recruit

The Lake Zurich tight end only started playing football three years ago.

Lake Zurich’s Hunter Welcing (44) warms up before the game against Warren.
Lake Zurich’s Hunter Welcing (44) warms up before the game against Warren.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Lake Zurich tight end Hunter Welcing is approaching this week similar to past weeks. He’s not focusing on how Saturday’s game against fourth-seeded Hersey (9-1) could be the last of his short-lived high school football career.

“You go into every week with the same intensity because you never know which game is going to be your last,” Welcing said. “So you take every game and play every snap, you’re not guaranteed another game because I almost learned the hard way that not really anything is guaranteed in the sport of football.”

Life has not gone according to Welcing’s plan on several occasions over the last few years.

Since he was 4, hockey consumed Welcing’s life. He hoped to earn a college scholarship and one day to make it to the NHL.

Up until three years ago, Welcing had never played competitive football. So how did he become one of the best tight ends in Illinois?

He has Lake Zurich quarterback and longtime friend Jack Moses’ persistence to partially thank.

Moses and Welcing have been best friends since they were in second grade. But there’s photo evidence, Moses said, that links the two together when they were 3. Their parents are close, so the two boys’ friendship came naturally.

Moses had been trying for years to get Welcing to play football on his team.

“I saw how big and athletic he was and I was like I really want to play football with this kid because he’s a freak athlete,” Moses said.

Welcing initially resisted. But after participating in the football team’s summer conditioning as a way to hang out with friends and stay in shape for the hockey season, Welcing caved and decided to join the football team his sophomore season.

Even though he was on JV, Welcing quickly earned the reputation of being the guy you didn’t want on the other side of the drill.

“None of the varsity guys wanted to go against him on any type of drill, nobody wanted to cover him or anything because he was bigger and more athletic than everybody,” Moses recalled. “People just knew in the back of their heads that, ‘He’s bigger, faster, stronger than me and I don’t want to get embarrassed.’”

Welcing fully committed to playing football in spring 2018. He changed his off season regimen from cardio and resistance training to focusing on lifting heavy weights and building muscle mass. Since then, the 6-4 star has gained 60 pounds of muscle mass.

After a breakout junior season, Welcing committed to Northwestern in March.

Moses wasn’t surprised by Welcing’s rise on the gridiron.

“Me and my dad would always tell Hunter’s dad, ‘Hunter’s a D-1 football player’ to get him to play,’” he said.

About three weeks after he announced his commitment, Welcing’s life took an unexpected detour when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament while playing in a seven-on-seven tournament at Barrington Fieldhouse.

“It’s kind of been a longer recovery getting back to play,” said Welcing, who missed the first seven weeks this season. “But it’s changed my perspective on certain things in life and I think it’s made me a better person, a better player overall.”

Being sidelined allowed Welcing to view the game as a coach. He took mental notes on proper footwork, blocking and hand placement.

“I’ve definitely come back stronger,” Welcing said. “Physically, it’s the strength around the knee. But also from the mental side of it. It’s kind of made me a more resilient player mentally.”

Moses will join Welcing at Northwestern next season. But the two aren’t done writing the final chapter of their story at Lake Zurich (7-3).

After back-to-back losses to start the season, the 20th-seeded Bears have turned their season around. They relied heavily on their defense for their 14-7 victory over Andrew in the first round last week. And they’ll have to do so again this week against Hersey, who’s outscored its opponents 480-186 this season.

“[We’re] definitely looking at ways to shutdown and minimize the offensive domination that Hersey establishes,” Welcing said. “Coming into this game this week, we know that they haven’t really played a team like us, and they haven’t faced a defense like us especially. So it’s definitely about getting more production on the offensive end without having to rely so much on the defensive side of the ball.”