Rookie no more: What does Matt Welsey have in store for encore?

A year ago, Shawnee head coach Tim Gushue, at the urging of some seniors, named a freshman his starting quarterback in mid-October. Matt Welsey helped turn a forgettable season into a championship one.

Shawnee’s season was heading for nowhere when coach Tim Gushue installed freshman Matt Welsey into the starting quarterback position. The Renegades won four of their final four games, including a South Jersey championship. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

A trying season was nearly 2 months old and the frustration was evident throughout the veterans on Shawnee High School’s football team, including dynamic senior quarterback Joe Dalsey.

Dalsey, who head coach Tim Gushue guessed had played eight or nine different positions at Shawnee, made an offhand comment to an assistant coach.

“Why doesn’t coach just get the Matt Welsey era started?” Dalsey said.

Dalsey was playing quarterback mainly out of necessity – the Renegades were without a natural fit after a player transferred and top quarterback prospect Welsey was only a freshman.

“We had a conversation about it (after that),” Gushue said. “Dalsey said, ‘If it’d help the team, I’m all for it.’ Normally I wouldn’t yank a senior like that, but it shows you the kind of kid Joe was.” 

And so heading into Shawnee’s final month of the 2018 season, Dalsey, who will play linebacker at Princeton University this fall, moved to tailback and the team called on Welsey. The ninth-grader made his first varsity start in a 26-21 loss to Rancocas Valley, completing 15-of-22 passes, throwing for 214 yards, scoring two touchdowns and no interceptions.

And then Welsey the freshman wonderkid helped Shawnee (2-6 heading into Halloween) to a four-game winning streak, including a South Jersey Group 4 championship win at Clearview.

Not bad for a 14-year-old.

“I think he’s a special young man,” Gushue said. “His football IQ is really good. Really good. And he’s such a dynamic athlete, he could be a good runner, too. … Coming up through the system in Medford Football, they ran the same system that we did, I think that really helped. And he just has a lot of confidence.

Prior to the start of his first full season under center for Shawnee, Welsey looked back on his memorable freshman season with South Jersey Sports Weekly:

SJSW: So how do you explain a journey when you begin high school on the freshman team and then you’re starting at MetLife Stadium a few months later (in a state playoff game)?

Matt Welsey: I got a couple of plays in against Union City (on Oct. 12), I had a run play, and that was the first time I actually got hit hard. And I realized what varsity really is. Then I got used to it. (Joe) Dalsey really helped, he would just talk to me if I ever needed help. And then after that it was like any other football game.

Shawnee head coach Tim Gushue: He also threw a touchdown pass at the end of the Williamstown game. He called the play, too. It was fourth and 15. I asked him what he wanted to run, the score was something like 45-7. So I said, what do you like, what do you want to run? He called something we called a Zebra, threw a 40-yard touchdown pass. I remember how excited he was, and he should have been. 

SJSW: When the season was over and you had time to look back on it, were you surprised the season went that way?

Welsey: I wasn’t really that surprised, but I think the playoffs made (our guys) think differently. You know, if you lose one game we’re going home. 

SJSW: Did you ever feel nervous or overwhelmed?

Welsey: The first play when we played Union City I had a little bit of butterflies. But as soon as I got the ball, I just went.

SJSW: Was their one favorite highlight or play? 

Welsey: I think the best one was Millville. I scrambled and threw it to Tom Rebstock for a game-winning touchdown.

Gushue: Late in the game, fourth quarter. I think we called a timeout … we motioned him on a jet sweep, he was supposed to look for the tight ends going vertical, they were covered, so he started scrambling, to his left and he’s a lefty, and next thing you know he just flicks it to Rebstock and he walked in. 

Welsey: You told me, right before that play, if anything happens, look for the running back.

Gushue: Scott Frost taught me that play. I knew him when he was at Oregon. We had a kid playing there and then Scott went to UCF. He’d tell me with running that play, nobody ever covers the back. 

Welsey scrambles for positive yardage in a playoff game against Clearview last year as a freshman. (MIKE MONOSTRA, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

SJSW: How about going into this year, what are the expectations?

Welsey: Well we lost J.C. Dobis (University of Pennsylvania) on the line, which is a big one, and Beau Lanzidelle (Hun School). But our line is solid this year. 

SJSW: When did you begin playing football?

Welsey: A long time ago. I played 70s. I think I was 7, I think? A long time ago.

SJSW: What got you into it, watching your older brothers?

Welsey: Yeah, and it was just in my family. My grandparents, my uncles – they all love Notre Dame football. My uncle went there. So I grew up watching (football) and signed up and started playing.

SJSW: Let’s have some fun. Who has the best hands on your team?

Welsey: I think (Nate) Summerville definitely does. I remember anytime I scrambled I’d look for him, even if he was double-covered. I’d throw it up and he’d be there to catch it. 

Gushue: He’s 6-5. He can go up and get the ball.

SJSW: Who is the fastest guy on your team?

Welsey: I think Rebstock. He’s explosive. 

SJSW: And last one for your teammates. Who is the best tackler?

Welsey: Wow, that’s tough.

SJSW: You can name a couple.

Welsey: I think Dalton Short and Matt Papa, too.

SJSW: Who is your favorite player not on your team? Someone on another team you like or respect?

Welsey: Cherokee’s quarterback last year, Aidan (Douglas). I’d go to training with him. 

SJSW: Do you have a favorite pro or college player?

Welsey: Cam Newton. 

SJSW: When you guys have days off, Sunday, what’s your favorite thing to do to chill out?

Welsey: Take a nap. Then go in the pool. And then go fishing. 

SJSW: Where do you hope to be four years from now?

Welsey: I’d like to be somewhere D-1, playing quarterback. That’s my goal. 

Gushue: In a perfect world, you could go to any school you wanted?

SJSW: Well we know the answer there … 

Gushue: Notre Dame?

Welsey: I actually don’t know. I think, I started watching Georgia and I like Jake Fromm.

Gushue: Georgia’s not a bad choice. 

SJSW: Did you do anything fun this summer?

Welsey: I went on a cross country road trip. We went to Boise State University and saw the blue field. And we went to Yellowstone. We went to Notre Dame, too. The whole family. My mom’s friend let us borrow an RV.

SJSW: So it’s the season opener and let’s say lineups are announced and you can walk out to your own song. What are you going with?

Welsey: Hall of Fame (by The Script, featuring will.i.am).