Naperville North senior Tom Welch is the reigning Gatorade Boys Soccer Player of the Year in Illinois as a goalie for the state champion Huskies. But basketball is the sport that is calling to him as the 6-foot-7 Welch is starting to excel on the hardwood as well.
Welch will return in net for Naperville North for his senior season. But for the past two offseasons, basketball has been his primary focus of development as the versatile forward is developing a bigger reputation.
Earning high-major scholarship attention with a lot of college coaches watching his play during July, Welch is looking to take unofficial visits to Clemson, Ball State, Belmont and Loyola over the next several weeks as his recruitment begins to flourish in basketball.
The youngest of four siblings, who all played sports growing up, Welch would always tag along to games and watch. Competing against older siblings and older kids helped give him a natural competitive edge to get better. Since joining the Illinois Wolves travel program after his sophomore varsity basketball season, Welch has turned into a Division I prospect -- thanks in large part to his work ethic.
"I love winning. One thing, especially with basketball, is progress is addictive. Especially working out. I remember being a twig freshman year and seeing the growth to where I am now," Welch said. "That's something that I enjoy -- getting better. Improving my handle. Every little piece, you want to get better at. I've seen my game grow so much in the last two years that I just want to keep doing it."
Besides being a good run-and-jump athlete, Welch has developed good enough ball handling and passing skills to help run press break on offense. Being 6-foot-7 enables Welch to see over the top of some opposing defenses as he fires laser passes to cutters. Being a soccer player, and having backgrounds in other sports, has helped Welch see the angles and areas where teammates are heading.
"I think playing soccer helps with that. I think being able to see the court is the same way as a goalie and a soccer player," Welch said. "You kind of see the gaps and the zones and how people move and stuff. I think just being an athlete and growing up and playing so many sports has helped me a lot. And that's helped me become more of a guard instead of a big."
Although known more as a big man at the high school level with Naperville North, Welch is hoping to develop more of his perimeter skills during the next several months. Every day requires a trip to the gym to shoot and handle the ball while weights are three-to-four times a week.
When soccer season starts, Welch will still be able to lift, but the time for basketball skill work will decrease a little bit. Promising basketball future aside, Welch is trying to complete a storied high school soccer career.
A two-time all-state performer at goalie heading into senior season, Welch recorded 19 shutouts last season -- including seven straight in the postseason. Playing soccer with his friends since grade school, Welch had success on youth teams that traveled to national events at places like Disney World.
"That's when I fell in love with soccer. The friendships. We were all athletic and we were winning so it was fun," Welch said.
Playing goalie wasn't even something Welch did regularly until he started high school, as his coaches thought he might be a good fit. Since making the switch, Welch has flourished as one of the best goalies in the country as he's been named to several All-American teams after his play last season.
"It's pretty unbelievable. Because I don't think there's enough credit I can give my defense and my coaches and just the entire team. Because without the success we had this season, none of these rewards would have come my way. It's pretty crazy," Welch said.
The success in soccer has also made Welch think about his athletic future. But the pull of basketball has become overpowering since Welch joined the Wolves and played in the competitive national structure of the Under Armour Association. Welch's blossoming basketball skill level has opened up a new level of possibilities for senior season.
"It's crazy to see my name for soccer nationally when I don't put as much time in. Sometimes, it makes me reconsider, like, 'oh, should I be playing soccer more?' Welch said. "But I just love basketball a little bit more, so I'm sticking with that."