Iola native joins Packers practice squad
By Greg Bates
Special to the Community Spirit
Kristian Welch saw the writing on the wall.
After more than three years playing for the Baltimore Ravens, Welch — a special teams standout — was cut when the team had to trim its roster to 53 guys August 29.
What happened the very next day for the 2016 Iola-Scandinavia graduate was a godsend.
“I was taking my dog to the vet to get routine shots. I got a call from my agent, and it was like 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” Welch said. “He’s like, ‘Hey, you’ve got a flight in two hours you’ve got to be on.’ ”
Welch was headed to Green Bay.
The next morning, Welch went through a standard medical checkup to get cleared. By about Noon that day, he was signed by the Packers to the practice squad.
“One of my coaches said that with the Packers I’m double dipping,” Welch said. “Not only am I playing in the NFL, living my dream, but I’m also playing for the team that I grew up with as a fan. It’s pretty cool. Just excited for the opportunity.”
Welch has had an interesting career in the NFL. After a solid career at the University of Iowa, Welch was hampered by a lack of pre-draft workouts due to COVID-19.
Welch went undrafted, but quickly latched onto the Ravens as a free agent. He played in 43 regular-season games and three postseason contests for Baltimore and was a staple on special teams. He logged 888 snaps on special teams and also got 46 snaps as a backup linebacker. Of Welch’s 21 career tackles, 16 came on one of the best special teams units in the NFL.
When the Ravens had cutdown day approaching at the end of August, Welch had a good idea he wouldn’t make the team. Baltimore opted to keep some younger linebackers that they had drafted.
“It’s never a fun situation,” Welch said about getting cut. “I’ve been on the other side where I’ve made the team, but had great friends, great people, great teammates, and great players lose their spot. Their career may be over or they go and they’re on a different team and they’re on their own journey. It’s the part of the NFL that stinks real bad, but it’s a business.”
But if it wasn’t for the Ravens cutting the veteran, Welch wouldn’t get to live out his dream of playing for the Packers.
“Everybody’s been really cool; the coaches are awesome,” Welch said. “The organization, you can just tell, has a great culture top to bottom — everybody’s been really professional. It’s been really good so far.”
When Green Bay signed the 25-year-old, he wasn’t specifically told by Packers brass what his role would be with the franchise.
“The vibe is I came in to play special teams and to be a solid backup on defense,” Welch said. “That’s what my role has been in my career thus far, and I think that’s very much in line with why I’m here.”
As one of the practice squad members, Welch is on the sideline for Packers home games but doesn’t travel when the team heads on the road.
Welch is always ready for the call to be promoted to the team’s 53-man roster. He could be one injury away from making his game-day debut with the green and gold.
“If that opportunity comes, which I’m obviously hoping for, I’m just going to go out and be the best player that I can be,” Welch said. “I know I have my strengths and want to go put those on display. Getting the opportunity to be out there with live bullets would be really fun.”
Welch said he feels fortunate to still be playing in the NFL. He’s already defied the odds as an undrafted player making it into a fourth season.
He has overcome plenty of obstacles along the way, and he’s always challenging himself to be a better player each and every day. “I’ve played some years in the NFL, which is certainly something I’m proud of, but I just feel like I still haven’t met my full potential,” he added. “That’s my opinion, and I’m my own harshest critic. My wife will tell you that and I think a lot of my teammates that have been around me know that. I’m really hard on myself. There’s that part of it where I still feel like there’s meat on the bone for me. I don’t think my career is nearly over — or at least I hope it isn’t. I think I still have some room to improve, in my opinion, that I want to show the world.”
Photo courtesy of Evan Siegle, Green Bay Packers
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