Young Receivers Are Rooting for the Little Guy
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Andy Stallings, a junior wide receiver at West Springfield, hears questions about his relative lack of height all the time.
On the field, opposing players say, "I'm looking down at you right now." Off the field, he's asked, "How can you do that? You're too short."
And of course, Stallings said, it plays a big role in recruiting, where the junior senses the doubts of college football coaches.
But for those who question whether Stallings, who is 5 feet 9, can succeed in football beyond high school, West Springfield Coach Bill Renner has the answer: "If you want a Wes Welker, here he is."
Welker, a receiver for the New England Patriots who, like Stallings, is just 5-9, tied for the NFL receptions lead this season with 112.
In addition to being an integral part of a Patriots team that is a Super Bowl XLII win away from an undefeated season, Welker has become an inspiration for many undersize players -- including Stallings and Tommy Sedeski, a 5-7 sophomore at Park View High in Sterling. They admire the short wide receiver who, despite going undrafted after an auspicious career at Texas Tech, now flourishes in the most prolific offense in NFL history.
"When you can look up to somebody that's relatively the same size, even though it's a different level, it does give you confidence that there's somebody out there 'like me' performing at the highest level," Renner said. "I think there's no question that it helps" Stallings.
Welker's journey from a small, private school in Oklahoma City to the Super Bowl was filled with snubs and overlooked achievements. And yet, according to those who knew him along the way, Welker never once questioned that he would make it in football.
"If you've been around him, you'd never doubt him, because he never doubts himself," said Rod Warner, Welker's high school coach at Heritage Hall High School, where Welker's jersey number is retired. "He told me, 'I'm playing in the NFL, coach,' and I said, 'Okay Wes, I understand that, but do you have Plan B?' He said, 'Coach, there is no Plan B.' "
Warner started Welker at tailback, defensive back, place kicker and punt returner, and he never left the field. Once, after scoring on a 65-yard touchdown run, Welker lined up to kick the extra point but vomited from fatigue just before the snap.
"That happened a couple times," Warner said. "He would go to the point of exhaustion, and he would never take himself out of the game."
Welker's success is satisfying to Warner, now Heritage Hall's athletic director, because he knows just how close Welker came to never even getting a chance. Warner was there on national signing day in 2000, when Welker did not receive any Division I scholarship offers. He remembers the chart college coaches pointed to that said Welker's 40-yard dash time wasn't fast enough for a player his height. And he was there the day Welker returned from a recruiting visit to the University of Tulsa, where he thought he would receive a scholarship offer, only to be informed the offer went to a prospect from Tennessee instead.