Illini Battling For Another Florida Sleeper

Deonte Welch (www.gainesville.com)

New Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino is using his previous contacts to recruit players for his new school. A Florida football star on his radar is Williston athlete Deonte Welch. It appears Petrino will be recruiting against his brother Bobby as Welch's college decision may come down to Illinois or Arkansas.

Deonte Welch is not highly recognized outside his area because he attends a small school in Williston, Florida. His situation reminds of Walt Aikens, who lettered for Illinois as a freshman despite being overlooked by college recruiters.

The versatile Welch was named the Florida 1B-2A Offensive Player Of The Year by the Gainesville Sun. And like Aikens, he also stars for his unbeaten basketball squad. He explains how Illinois got involved in his recruitment.

"Arkansas was looking at me since my junior year. I lost contact with them awhile, but then I got back in touch with them again. Since Paul Petrino went to Illinois, he called my coach about me. It started from there."

Besides the Illini and Razorbacks, he has claimed offers from Vanderbilt, North Carolina State and Tulane. Illinois is hosting a big weekend for recruiting prospects in a couple weeks, and Welch plans to be part of it.

"I'm supposed to visit Illinois January 22nd. Besides Illinois and Arkansas, I think I'm supposed to visit Ole Miss."

The humble 5'-11", 182 pounder is reluctant to talk about his exploits, but he did provide a few details.

"I don't like to brag on myself too much. I like to prove myself on the field. I like the ball in my hands and try to make big plays. I'm pretty mobile, quick and fast.

"I played everything, cornerback, running back, wide receiver, kick return, punt return. I had over 1000 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns. On defense I had four interceptions."

Since Petrino is a receiver coach, Welch believes that is his likely college position should he select the Illini.

"I think they're recruiting me as a wide receiver. I can play anything."

A change of coaches brought about a change in offensive styles. This gave Welch a chance to show his receiving skills.

"I played mostly running back, but whenever they needed me to, I'd go to receiver to catch a couple balls. My senior year we had a new coach (Derek Chipoletti), so we went from an option offense to a spread offense. I played mostly wing there."

In a September 4 game against P.K. Yonge, he had a 99 yard interception return for touchdown called back by penalty, sat out the second quarter with cramps in the oppressive heat, but came back to gain 179 yards and score two fourth quarter touchdowns to secure the win.

Edward Aschoff of www.gainsville.com described Welch's September 29 game in glowing terms.

"I checked out the Williston-Keystone Heights game Friday night. Great game really, but there was one player who truly stuck out to me. Williston senior running back Deonte Welch isn't that big and isn't that intimidating when you see him. Then, he steps out on the football field. He was the centerpiece in the Red Devils' fantastic rushing attack that put up 435 yards on Keystone Heights in the Red Devils' 41-28 win. Welch had 14 carries for 143 yards and two scores.

"Like I said, he's a bit lanky at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, but he's got some speed and some sweet moves. But how fast is he? Deonte Welch is so fast, that after his first few carries of the games, his feet literally came out of his cleats. His feet tore through his shoes and he couldn't run in them anymore. He did what any starting running back in a spread offense is supposed to do to start the game, but it was his fourth run with a brand new pair of cleats that really brought out his elusiveness. With his team down 13-12 with well under a minute left in the second quarter, Welch took a handoff up the middle and danced through every defender he found and somehow made his way to the right sideline before sprinting back up the middle of the field and into the end zone for a 62-yard touchdown with 8.4 seconds on the clock."

Welch remembered the shoe episode.

"I ran out my shoes. I had to get somebody else's shoes to finish the game. It just came out of nowhere."

Aschoff quoted the Williston coach after that game.

"'Deonte Welch can make you look like a smart coach sometimes,' Williston coach Derek Chipoletti said. 'Wow. There's not much to say. I say (wow) every game. What a player he is. He's slippery, he's got everything. He's got the wiggles. He's got the straight line speed.'"

The size of the school likely plays a big part as to why Welch is relatively unknown in recruiting circles.

"It's a small town. Our classification just went from 3 to 2B. We lost in the first round of the playoffs to Jacksonville Bolles (48-0)."

Bolles won the Florida state championship.

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