There are approximately 150 talented wide receivers vying for spots on just 32 NFL teams in the 2016 draft class. Each player has a different skill-set, background and mindset.
To make the NFL, though, these prospects must find a way to stand out. Most receivers do that with their reliable hands, exceptional footwork or precise route-running. For Duquesne senior wideout Chris King, it’s something much simpler – it’s his heart.
“I always like to talk about the heart,” King said. “Like you know, coming from a small school you already don’t get as much publicity as the bigger schools or anything like that, so I feel like sometimes they might be overhyped, and it’s more of just proving your worth.”
Although King didn’t go to an FBS football powerhouse, he can find comfort in the fact knowing that one of his idols, Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, attended Central Michigan – another school not commonly associated with being an NFL prospect factory.
King started playing football in third grade, but it wasn’t until that same year that he made a strong push toward the NFL. He started making headlines in 2014 when he tallied over 1,100 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns in just 11 games, while averaging 16.6 yards per reception.
“Statistically, he has put himself in that range of traditionally great receivers that have come through this program,” Duquesne head coach Jerry Schmitt said. “As far as being a role model to our team, he is a great young man, an excellent student and a quiet leader who has helped us win a couple championships here and make it to the playoffs.”
As the 2014 accolades piled up, the interest skyrocketed. King was named to the 2014 Sports Network All-American Third Team as well as First Team All Northeast Conference. Due to his play on the field and these aforementioned honors, there were scouts from nearly every NFL team present at the Dukes’ 2015 training camp, according to King.
Currently, King ranks as the No. 74 receiver on CBS Sports’ prospect rankings and is projected to go undrafted. However, knowing there is plenty of work left to be done, he works out 12 to 15 hours per week at a training facility in Robinson Township amid other receiver prospects. He has also improved his diet by eating healthier foods.
Without a combine invitation, King must prepare for Duquesne’s Pro Day— his primary opportunity to impress the NFL scouts. In his final game with Duquesne he set career highs with 12 receptions and 221 yards receiving in the NCAA FCS Playoffs, leaving a positive lasting impression in the minds of the scouts and his head coach.
“We’re going to miss him a great deal here,” Schmitt said. “Not only his ability on the field, but his personality on our team. He’s been a great teammate and a great part of our locker room here at Duquesne.”
King desires to become a special part of a new locker room, but he isn’t in need of any extra motivation.
“Chasing my dreams, that’s really my inspiration," King said. "I grew up playing football, I love watching it and I just hope to continue my career. That’s what really drives me.”
Football is in King’s blood. His cousin, Herman Johnson, was a former NFL player himself. King grew up watching Johnson and his brother, Ed King, play the game, which served as his inspiration for him in his pursuit of the NFL draft.
King’s drive and his relentless heart help him stand out from the other 149 draft eligible receivers as he pursues an NFL roster spot.
“It would mean everything,” King said. “I think about it every day. Waking up at 6 a.m. every morning just trying to make it one step closer – just trying to make the dream happen.”
For anyone fighting to fulfill a lifelong dream and in need of some added motivation, you can find it in the journey of fifth year senior and former Duquesne track phenom Ian Welch.
Welch has dreamed of the Olympics since he was little and is now training for a chance to compete in the long jump at the Olympic Trials, which will take place in Eugene, Oregon starting July 1.
“I just remember watching the Olympics, I watched every summer ever since I was a kid and I remember I wanted to be one of those guys,” Welch said. “You know, I wanted to be on the big stage.”
But a spot on the Olympic roster doesn’t come easy for anyone. After being ranked as high as No. 7 in the country last year, Welch failed to finish in the top 12 at regionals; therefore, missing out on the national championship, which he believed was well in reach.
“I was like, ‘I’m done. This is ridiculous. I can’t believe I performed this low to not even make the top 12,’” Welch said. “So at that point I was like, ‘okay, I had a great career. That’s it. It’s over with.’”
He was that close to giving up, but Duquesne jumps coach Brian Reed wasn’t going to let Welch’s talent go to waste and ensured he knew just how close his dream was— 40 centimeters.
Photo Courtesy of Ian Welch
In May 2015, Welch nearly gave up on his dreams, but changed his mind later that same month with support from a former teammate.
Anna Simone, a good friend of Welch, is also training for the Olympic Games in Rio. Simone graduated from Duquesne in 2015 and is training in Arizona amongst other Olympic hopefuls with the goal of competing in the 400m hurdles.
Photo Credit to Kevin Yacker, Duquesne '15
“I think she’s probably had one of the biggest impacts,” Welch said, “because on a personal level from being teammates and from having the same goals and being able to accomplish some of the same things, she’s been one of my biggest motivators for sure.”
Even roughly 2,000 miles away, Welch and Simone are able to push one another in the times when they need it most.
“Whenever I think about how rough it is out here, or how training has me tired everyday, or I’m struggling with my own goals that I have to reach— I think of Ian. I think of how fortunate we both are,” Simone said. “How our situations differ, because he is doing this all on his own. With all that said, he doesn’t let that phase him. He is the ultimate determined professional athlete.”
When Welch is dragging and needs motivation, he looks to Simone’s Facebook posts for a much needed boost.
“She posts a lot on Facebook of her training and her progress and it kind of just like annoys me because I want to do that too,” Welch said. “So it’s just like, ‘alright let me get up, let me go run a few miles, let me go to rehab to make sure I get my body back.’”
Simone remembered their time at the East Regional in 2015 as the moment that stood out the most. Neither of them performed at their best, but no matter what happened on the track or in the sandpit, they were there for one another.
Photo Courtesy of Anna Simone
“We were both there to comfort each other,” Simone said. “He was the first person I went to, to say this is not the end. It’s our last competition [at Duquesne], but that doesn't mean we can't finish our goals as professionals.”
Welch doesn’t have those same resources as Simone does in Arizona; he is trying to make it work with the limited resources he has here in Pittsburgh. He says that forces him to work even harder and has improved his work ethic.
But without his experience at Duquesne he never would have met the four people to whom he attributes his success: Coaches Bryan Delsite, Mihaela Tripon, Brian Reed and Simone. They helped Welch realize his own talent and take it to the next level, which eventually led to him breaking the Duquesne school records in both the long jump and triple jump in his final year as a collegiate athlete.
Welch has stayed closed to the program after taking a position as the assistant jumps coach, which he describes as a rewarding experience for him, being able to give back what he learned to the current athletes.
He is slowly making his way back from a strained hamstring, but once March hits he says he is going to be taking his training up about “20 notches” with the hope of qualifying for the U.S. Indoor National Championships.
Welch’s track idol is Christian Taylor, a name probably unfamiliar to the general public, but a triple jumper whom Welch has been following for a number of years since he was running at the University of Florida and Welch was still in high school at Central Catholic.
Taylor is just shy of breaking the triple jump world record, which has inspired Welch to break records of his own. Welch additionally finds inspiration in the people he has known since his childhood.
“A lot of my friends that I’ve grown up with, they’re doing a lot of big things right now,” Welch said. “Some have clothing lines, some are working with Fortune 500 companies, some are starting their own businesses, so everyone is just kind of like following their dreams that they’ve had that we talked about when we were growing up together, so I use that a lot to really motivate me.”
Countless hours of hard work on the track, in the weightroom, and in the sandpit all lead to one chance of fulfilling a lifelong dream. Although he is content with just giving it his best shot even if he can’t make up those 40 centimeters, a spot on the Olympic team would mean a great deal to Welch.
“Man, I don’t know. It would be absolutely crazy,” he said. “It’s just one of those things like you’re kind of scared if it actually happens because for a long time it would only be a dream to you, so if it actually happened I might cry. I might cry a lot.”
Blair Walsh's missed field goal advances the Seahawks one step closer to a return to yet another Super Bowl. Photo Courtesy of Brace Hemmelgarn.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
The Seattle Seahawks have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl in back to back seasons thanks to a few magical moments. A rather fortunate 10-9 escape over the Minnesota Vikings in the Wildcard game showed that there might still be a little more magic left in the Seahawks, especially in the form of their reliable quarterback.
Although they have not emitted an aura of dominance in the 2015-16 season like they have in the past few years, there is no doubt that this Seahawks team is talented enough to earn a spot in its 3rd consecutive Super Bowl.
Seattle has fought off its fair share of injuries and growing pains this season— a big reason why they finished as the No. 6 seed in the NFC. However, they have a signal caller named Russell Wilson who always seems to make the right plays in critical moments.
Rewind to the 2015 NFC Championship game with the 'Hawks down 19-7 and just over three minutes on the clock. Remember Wilson’s improbable throw all the way from one sideline to the other on that 2-point conversion? Clutch. However, none of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the rather fortunate mistake by Green Bay’s Brandon Bostick on the onside kick.
What about the back and forth tussle with the San Francisco 49ers back in the 2014 Championship Game? Seattle slid by once again. After trailing for much of the game, Wilson came up big when his team desperately needed him to make a play.
First in the second quarter when the Seahawks were in a 10-0 hole, Wilson was chased out of the pocket and escaped defenders for over eight seconds before finding his man Doug Baldwin for a huge gain, which eventually led to their first touchdown.
Then in the 4th quarter on 4th down and 7 to go, Wilson delivered a strike to Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown giving Seattle its first lead of the game and the only one they would need to earn their first trip to the Super Bowl in the Pete Carroll era.
Fast forward to last weekend, with his team trailing 9-0 in the 4th quarter, a miscommunication between center and quarterback led to the ball whizzing past Wilson’s head. Crucial mistake, right? Not quite. Wilson ran back, picked up the ball, scrambled to his right and tossed a composed pass to the rookie Tyler Lockett. This completion got Seattle inside the five-yard-line and back in the game.
Those are the plays that winning teams make.
Yes— luck has seemed to play a factor in their recent and continued success, but when is the last time luck wasn’t a part of a team’s championship run?
It’s impossible to count on luck, but one thing that can be counted on is Wilson. Wilson and his teammates repeatedly make the necessary plays to keep themselves in nearly every single game they play.
The Seahawks only suffered one loss all season in which they lost by multiple possessions. Meaning in their other five defeats, they were within one “lucky” play of winning. No team is going to get lucky week after week and the 'Hawks are no exception, but they give themselves a chance to win each game and that’s what makes them so dangerous.
Whether it’s Wilson leaving the crowd in awe as he turns a broken play into an incredible play or it’s the “Legion of Boom” making a game-saving interception, the 'Hawks can never be counted out as recent history has shown.
Most people watched the Seahawks squeak past an improving, but mediocre, Vikings team and thought lesser of Seattle. For me, this game was Seattle’s lucky break for 2016. They had lucky moments on their way to back-to-back Super Bowls and Blair Walsh’s missed field goal was that lucky moment this year.
It was their one lucky break. It was their wake up call. It was the motivation they needed to spark yet another Super Bowl run.