INDIANAPOLIS — Sean Welsh bravely stood and told the world last summer how depression changed his life throughout his college experience.
As a freshman at Iowa, Welsh became withdrawn and insulated himself in his bedroom in front of a television set. He missed spring football practice, and it was undetermined if he’d return to the football team.
Through medication, Welsh did come back and he excelled. He started 48 games with the Hawkeyes and became an All-Big Ten lineman last season. Welsh since has shared his story with NFL officials in January at the Senior Bowl and last week at the scouting combine. He was upfront, honest and left out no details. Welsh did so to ensure teams understood his situation and perhaps help others who experience similar symptoms.
“Everybody has been very receptive,” Welsh said. “I think I’ve been very forthright with my experience. It’s something I think is a real crisis in this country. You look at a lot of recent events. It’s a big issue, a hot-button issue, just mental health in general. I’d like to be someone who can bring that kind of perspective to a locker room because people are sensitive talking about it, and guys, it’s something that I’ve had teammates at Iowa talk to me [about]. I’d like to be kind of a resource for a team, in a way.”
Welsh (6-foot-3, 306 pounds) spoke freely in both formal and informal meetings in Indianapolis.
“I basically give them a full rundown of my history,” Welsh said. “The list of medications I’m on, what I do to manage it. Just to show them I’m on top of it, and it’s something that I do manage and have managed for some time.
“What I’m trying to do is be proactive.”
— IowaFBLive (@IowaFBLive) July 19, 2017
No matter what happens in his football career, Welsh plans on becoming an advocate for mental illness and depression, especially since speaking publicly about the topic.
“It’s been very cathartic for me,” Welsh said. “Being able to come forward, and for me, I’ve always wanted to do something more than football and play football. This has kind of been something that has kind of become a purpose for me in my life, shedding light on the issue and sharing my story. Whatever I can do to kind of move the ball forward in the discussion.”
At Iowa, Welsh’s teammates were accepting. That didn’t mean Welsh was absolved from good-natured ribbing, however. His nickname was “Dad,” which got a chuckle from Welsh when it was brought up.
“I think it’s my mannerisms or something,” he said. “They think I’m like too serious of a guy or something. I don’t know.
“My mom says I am [too serious]. Maybe it’s something I need to work on.”
As for his playing ability, there’s little doubt Welsh is a skilled competitor who can compete for any NFL franchise. Former Iowa teammate Josey Jewell said Welsh “has the grip of a bear.” At Iowa, Welsh has started at both guard spots plus right tackle. He spent the spring of 2016 competing at center, something he said he’d entertain at the next level.
Welsh didn’t finish near the top of any of the workout categories, but his experience of working with Iowa’s NFL-ready zone-blocking scheme should help him at the next level. His hand size of 10¼ inches was a positive, but his arm length of 32 inches was seen by some as a negative.
“I thought because of his size, he may have to go to center,” said Dan Shonka, national scout and general manager of Ourlads Scouting Services. “He kind of fits in a way with what they do in New England but they’re going to have a new offensive line coach at New England. They’ll play with guys like Welsh’s size because [Tom] Brady gets the ball out so damn fast they just have to be able to lock in. There are some offensive line coaches who will just take him off the board even though he’s a good zone blocker. But they all want 33 or longer arms, and he doesn’t have that.”
Welsh counters any criticism of his size with his track record. He’s versatile, dependable and was named a permanent team captain in 2017.
“I say I’m versatile,” Welsh said. “I’ve played a lot of different positions. I say I’m durable. I missed one game in my starting career, and it was North Dakota State. Then I say I have a good set of fundamentals. I give the credit there to the coaching staff. I think they do a phenomenal job of teaching the fundamentals of run and pass blocking.”