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Elder graduate continues Notre Dame tradition

Casey Karnes | Wednesday, November 20, 2013

 

As an all-state tight end out of Cincinnati, Alex Welch had options coming out of high school. A top-150 recruit in the class of 2010, according to multiple outlets, Welch could have gone to any number of big-time programs. Because he was from Elder High School, however, there was truly only ever one option, and Welch said he was proud to continue Elder’s pipeline to Notre Dame.

“Oh absolutely [I take pride in that],” Welch said. “Just going to Elder, the next goal if you were a football player was to go to Notre Dame, so that was my ultimate goal.”

Elder has also produced Irish standouts like 1975 co-captain and offensive tackle Ed Bauer, defensive tackle Tony Leonard and, most recently, tight end Kyle Rudolph. In fact, Rudolph, now a Pro Bowl tight end with the Minnesota Vikings, and Welch were teammates at Elder and Notre Dame. As a sophomore in high school, Welch backed up Rudolph during the latter’s All-American senior season, and the two also played varsity basketball together. 

Then, after Welch finished building his own legacy at Elder, he joined Rudolph at Notre Dame in 2010, Rudolph’s final year with the Irish before jumping to the NFL. Even though they only crossed paths for a season in college, Welch said Rudolph was a great influence and that they still share a bond to this day.

“He definitely helped me in the first year [at Notre Dame], with the transition, and he taught me a lot of things,” Welch said. “We stay in touch. We talk at least once a month. If he has a good game in the NFL, I’ll shoot him a text, little stuff like that.”

By following in the footsteps of Rudolph and the other Elder graduates who chose Notre Dame, Welch joined another impressive lineage. Recently, Notre Dame has a nearly unparalleled record of production from the tight end position, sending its previous four starting tight ends to the NFL, including Welch’s former teammates Rudolph and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Tyler Eifert. While the NFL may not be in Welch’s future, he still said playing with the best of the best has benefitted him immensely.

“They’re just guys you can learn from,” Welch said. “Everyday in practice we have a lot of good competition, and we just continue to push each other everyday.”

Welch currently sits behind juniors Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack on the Irish depth chart, but the senior is active as a special-teams contributor. Welch has one career catch, which came as a sophomore against Navy, and was the favorite to back up Eifert in the 2012 season before a torn ACL in the preseason ruined those plans. Welch missed all of last season and was hampered even into this season. 

Missing Notre Dame’s run to the BCS National Championship Game was painful, Welch said, but he focused on getting back to the point where he could help the team rather than feeling sorry for himself.

“It was extremely difficult, especially the timing of it, two weeks before the season started,” Welch said. “But that’s part of the game. Injuries happen, and you’ve just got to move on. It takes obviously a little time to come back from an ACL [tear], but it’s starting to feel good. I’m going to continue to help the team in any way I can.”

Welch was not the first member of his family to be part of a championship-contending Notre Dame team, as his uncle Steve Heimkreiter was part of Dan Devine’s 1977 national championship-winning squad. Heimkreiter was a big reason Welch chose the Irish and remains a close advisor to the tight end, Welch said.

“We talk at least once a week,” Welch said. “[Notre Dame] was just in the family. When I got the offer here, [Heimkreiter] was extremely excited, as was the rest of my family. It was just my ultimate goal.”

Welch said he is hoping to return for a fifth year of football and is unsure of his plans otherwise. A management consulting major, he said he is confident in his education whenever he takes the next step into the working world. 

“I just know [the Mendoza College of Business] was the No. 1 business school in the country, and I want to take advantage of that,” Welch said. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot of good things in the business school, and hopefully I can use that. I’m not sure exactly what I want to do next, but I know it will be something in the business area.”

Regardless of whether he returns for a fifth year or enters the business world, Welch said he is proud of the culture he and his fellow seniors have instilled as members of Kelly’s first recruiting class.

“Each year we’ve continued to get better and better,” Welch said. “I think you can tell by last year and this year the successes we’ve had. It’s been a process, but it’s definitely worked out.”

Contact Casey Karnes at wkarnes@nd.edu