Few college-football fans tailgate with as much imagination and gusto as Iowa’s, but those partying near Kinnick Stadium might need a challenging game other than cornhole to pass the time before kickoff.
Everyone has heard of the children’s game “Where’s Waldo?” In the Hawkeyes’ case, how about “Where’s Sean Welsh?”
No one outside the program usually knows exactly where Welsh, a redshirt senior from Springboro, Ohio, will play on the offensive line from one game to the next.
As a freshman, he played seven games at left guard and two at right guard. In 2014, it was 12 games at left guard and two at right tackle. Last season, Welsh played right guard for 11 games and right tackle for one.
The coaching staff even had him work out at center before last season because James Daniels missed spring practice with an injury.
Welsh ruined the drama going into Iowa’s game against Ohio State.
“I’m going to be at right guard, but I agree that it has been crazy,” he said. “All of our linemen go into the season knowing there are going to be twists and turns, and you never know what is going to happen. We’ve had some guys dinged up, and I’ve had to move around.”
Welsh played right tackle in the opener against Wyoming and right guard the following week against Iowa State. Then it was four straight games at right tackle before moving back to right guard against Northwestern and Minnesota.
What’s astounding is that at 6 feet 3 and 295 pounds, Welsh is considered too small to play tackle.
Coach Kirk Ferentz has compared Welsh to former Hawkeyes lineman Marshal Yanda, a seven-time All-Pro guard for the Baltimore Ravens.
“Whatever we asked Marshal to do when he was here, he did it pretty well,” Ferentz has said. “He wasn't necessarily flashy or an eye-catching guy. He really blocked guys well no matter where we put him. Sean is not 6-6 and 330 pounds or any of that stuff, but he's just a really good football player, really productive on the field.”
After last season, Welsh was presented with Iowa’s Hustle Award and was voted third-team all-Big Ten by coaches. This season, he is on the watch list for the Rimington Award that goes to the best offensive lineman in Division I.
Welsh said being compared to Yanda is a stretch.
“That’s an honor, but I don’t know if I completely agree with coach,” he said. “It’s important to be flexible with the way we play. The coaches stress that all of the offensive linemen get out of our comfort zones in practice. It’s a point of pride for us to be versatile. They say I’m the shortest tackle in the Big Ten, but that I have the biggest heart. I don’t have a tackle’s body. It’s about what they teach here, and I execute.”
When Luke Fickell was Ohio State's coach in 2011, the Buckeyes showed interest in Welsh, at the time a high school junior.
“Then there was the transition with coach (Urban) Meyer coming in, and Iowa kept recruiting me pretty hard,” Welsh said. “My mother and grandfather went through Ohio State medical school, and I was a Buckeyes fan, but Iowa seemed like the right fit from the start.”