In the last 20 years in the Battle Creek area, there has been two football players that have gone on to play quarterback at a Division I college.
And they both came from Marshall High School.
The Redhawks’ returning signal caller Danny Welke is trying to take that number to three.
With a big junior season, Welke showed the potential to be a college-level quarterback. He’s hoping a big senior year will help him reach that level and he’s able to follow in the footsteps left for him at Quarterback High.
Using that 20-year window once again, as Marshall sent Ryan Van Dyke to play quarterback at Michigan State and Evan Sharpley to play quarterback at Notre Dame, the other 22 area schools combined to send zero quarterbacks to play that position at the Division I level.
So what is it about Marshall that makes it a quarterback hotbed?
Those that are part of it, say it’s all about how these quarterbacks look to pass the torch – and try to help whoever is the next prospect.
“I think the way it is at Marshall, especially at quarterback, is that we all try to give back. So wherever we may go, we always try to come back and help where we can,” Van Dyke said. “So a quarterback at Marshall gets a little extra. From the beginning, Danny has been coached at the college level. I have taught him stuff I learned in college and in my time in the pros and Evan has taken the same approach.”
Sharpley agrees with his fellow former Marshall quarterback.
“It’s a little expected for former players to come back and help. Personally, for me and Ryan, we are passionate about it so we are there for any of the quarterbacks,” Sharpley said. “It was the same for me. It was great to gave a guy like Ryan, who had success in college and pro ball, and have him come back and give advice and I think that’s working for Danny, too.”
As a junior, Welke threw for 1,758 yards and 16 touchdown and earned all-conference honors as the Redhawks went 6-4 on the season and played in the postseason after the program had missed the playoffs for a couple of years.
As a 6-foot-4, strong-armed senior, Welke has the build to be a college quarterback prospect and definitely the pedigree, having come from Marshall.
Marshall had had a long line of talented quarterbacks, that includes names like Todd Reynolds – who played in the 1980s and made it to the Division I level at Central Michigan. However, Reynolds went there as a linebacker.
The stars of the group are two players who not only were Division I quarterback prospects, but where among the best at their position in the nation during their senior year.
After leading Marshall to back-to-back trips to the Pontiac Silverdome and the state finals, Van Dyke was one of the top players in the state at any position and went to play at Michigan State from 1998-2001. Van Dyke went on to play in NFL Europe, was in several NFL training camps and played professionally in the Arena Football League.
Sharpley was also a standout at Marshall and one of the top recruits in the state, verbally committing early during his junior season to Notre Dame. Sharpley played for the Irish from 2005-2008 and also was a member of the baseball team at the school and was later drafted by the Seattle Mariners.
So when those two players talk about football, Welke is more than willing to listen.
“They want to help you. When they realize you are the next guy at quarterback here at Marshall, they want to help you get better,” Welke said. “For me to be able to work with them, pick their brains, that helps with everything.
“It’s definitely some big shoes to fill, following guys like Ryan Van Dyke and Evan Sharpley – it’s nice to even be mentioned with them. But I know they did some great things so I have a lot to live up to and a lot of work to do still.”
Welke is getting recruited by several schools – at both the Division I and Division II level. Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schools like Grand Valley State University and Saginaw Valley State University are very interested in Welke. Eastern Michigan out of the Mid-American Conference was in on Welke during last season and remains interested and Western Michigan University has joined the recruiting process.
WMU is an interesting school to be looking at Welke, considering the Broncos have a commitment from one of Marshall’s rival schools in quarterback Chance Stewart at Sturgis. Stewart, who gave an early verbal commitment to Wisconsin before changing to WMU, is one of the top prospects in the state and happens to be a workout partner with Welke.
WMU reportedly has told Marshall that it is trying to build up a depleted group of quarterbacks and might be interested in taking Welke and Stewart.
As both Welke and Stewart have been involved in private workouts with Sharpley in the past year, the Marshall senior has joked with his friend about why the Broncos would even want the star from Sturgis, when they can have the best quarterback in his league.
“Me and Chance are friends. There’s a little good-natured trash talk when we work with Sharpley,” Welke said. “I was named first-team all-conference last year at quarterback and he was on the second team – so I remind him of that a little bit sometimes.”
According to Welke and Marshall head football coach Jim Hendershot, what college scouts are saying is that they like how Welke knows the game and can anticipate what’s going to happen on the football field.
“Knowing defenses, I know what the defense is going to do and where to throw the ball. I think college scouts like that about me,” Welke said. “With the way our offense is ran, it sets you up to play at the next level. We throw from under center and shotgun. Some people throw from shotgun their whole high school career and they aren’t ready for college.”
But Welke seems to be ready for college gameplans, even now.
“He is talking and playing at a different level. Not too many high school seniors are able to talk football at that level with whoever is recruiting him – he knows the language and can talk to college coaches that way,” Van Dyke said. “When you grow up speaking Spanish, for instance, you are going to be able to speak Spanish. Danny grew up talking quarterback.”
Which is part of the secret to the success at Marshall. Youth football players at Marshall grow up knowing there is a tradition of success at the quarterback spot and that they are expected to be able to play the position at a certain level.
“We have run a multiple offense since forever – so kids coming up have that mentality,” Hendershot said. “They know the quarterback is expected to run an offense and be able to throw a little bit. It’s a generational thing. The kids grow up learning to play quarterback this way. We never switched to wing-T, never went to single wing – so when they come up through rocket, they are playing I-formation, multiple formations, trying to get the defense at a disadvantage and that fosters it.”
That gets back to having a rich tradition at the position.
Sharpley has recently been working at the East Lake Athletic Club in Elkhart, Indiana – specializing in personal training for athletes. He has taken on a group of young quarterbacks, that include Welke and Stewart at Sturgis, as well as some from the Indiana area – and is giving private instruction in the art of quarterbacking.
Van Dyke worked as an assistant coach at Marshall last year and has now moved on to South Lyon High School, where he is doing the same. However, Van Dyke stays in contact with Welke, who he considers a ‘little brother’ and who has ‘set the bar of what a high school teenager should be like at Marshall.’
“It goes back years. When Evan was a sophomore, Ryan came up and worked with us through that entire season and that was a big growth season for Evan,” Hendershot said. “Evan calls up and says, do you need me to come up for a few days, I’ll help… Ryan worked with Danny all of last year as his coach – it’s that kind of thing all the time.
“In the winter, (Danny) met probably eight Sundays in a row with Evan and Ryan both around and he just threw in the gym with a few receivers….it’s that kind of extra stuff that gives Danny an edge.”
Which is another reason college scouts should pay attention to what’s happening in Marshall this season. Both Sharpley and Van Dyke see Welke as a Division I prospect.
“I like how coachable he is. He picks things up quickly and has a great strong arm,” Sharpley said. “And once you turn the lights on he comes to perform. He is a gamer.”
“I’ve already contacted more colleges I can count on my fingers. People know me, people know Evan. We are local kids who played locally so people trust us and how we break down players, and I am telling people Danny is a college quarterback,” Van Dyke added.
But Van Dyke is willing to take the statement one step further.
“I think he ranks right up there with me and Evan, in my opinion, as far as his quarterbacking ability and how he manages the game,” Van Dyke said. “He is very cerebral and he understands how to play the game.”
Welke appreciates all the support he is getting and is excited about getting the opportunity to live up to the hype.
“It’s great to be considered to be possibly be the next quarterback to get to college coming out of Marshall,” Welke said.
“It’s an honor really to be mentioned with them at all and hopefully I can get to the next level and and follow in their footsteps.”
With all of that, Welke is still waiting on his first official Division I scholarship offer as most of the college coaches are telling him they want to see how he plays early in the season before they take the next step.
Hendershot says, when, not if, Welke gets an offer – that school won’t be disappointed.
“Outside of our area, he might be the best kept secret in this part of Michigan. If you listen to Ryan and Evan, they all rave about his potential to be a quarterback at the next level. I have no doubt in my mind he can be a quarterback at the next level,” Hendershot said. “Last year set him up for people to know who he was. So this year is going be about playing well enough for someone to take notice and sign him.
“And if they do, they will be very happy.”