LARAMIE — Treyton Welch is motivated this spring for obvious reasons.
First, Wyoming’s sophomore tight end wants to maintain his spot at the top of the depth chart. By all accounts, Welch, who rose to the No. 1 spot at tight end last season, has done just that. UW has yet to officially finalize a depth chart going into the summer, but Welch and freshman Parker Christensen have separated themselves at that position, UW coach Craig Bohl said.
And as a more natural receiving threat than just about anybody else at the position, Welch wants to help improve a passing game that’s had its share of well-documented struggles in recent years.
At 6-foot-3 and 233 pounds, Welch, a wide receiver in high school, is the kind of hybrid talent that’s becoming more prevalent at the position in the modern game, possessing enough girth to hold up as an in-line blocker but also the kind of speed and athleticism that some of UW’s bigger tight ends don’t have to consistently stress defenses through the air.
“If our number is called,” Welch said of the tight ends, “we’re going to go make a play.”
That’s the expectation for Welch entering his third year in UW’s program. And when it comes to what he expects, nobody has higher expectations for Welch than himself.
As a youngster growing up in Minnesota, Welch kept a list of football-related goals in his bedroom, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Welch recently shared what’s on that list.
“I started out by saying I wanted to make the varsity football team,” Welch said.
“Then I said I wanted to start on the varsity football team. Then I said I wanted to be on the national football team, go to the Nike Opening (recruiting camp), play Division I football and make it to the NFL.”
Welch has been able to cross each of them off up to this point of his career, but he’s still working on that last task, which is why Welch said he still looks at that list every day.
“I can put that list up all I want, but the more times I look at it, it reminds me that I need to be able to do it actually and be better well done than well said and actually pursue that,” Welch said. “Every time I look at it, I remind myself that I’ve got to pursue that 100 miles an hour.”
Welch has just five receptions through the first 13 games of his collegiate career, but if his athletic background is any indication, he’s capable of much more. Welch not only started for Buffalo (Minnesota) High but caught nearly everything that came his way, ending his prep career as the second-leading receiver in the history of Minnesota high school football.
The two names he’s sandwiched in between? Michael Floyd (No. 1), the former Notre Dame receiver who played eight seasons in the NFL. And NFL vet Larry Fitzgerald (No. 3), who has the second-most receiving yards in league history.
To add more perspective to the kind of athlete Welch is, he was also a standout hockey player for Buffalo. It helped him garner attention from some Power Five programs on the football field, including the in-state Gophers, though Minnesota wanted him as a preferred walk-on. Fellow Big Ten schools Nebraska and Iowa also showed interest but never offered him a scholarship.
Ironically enough, UW first-year offensive coordinator Tim Polasek wanted Iowa’s staff to make Welch a bigger priority when Polasek was part of it as the Hawkeyes’ offensive line coach. But Welch went with the school out West that was in on him from the beginning of his recruitment.
“We’re really fortunate to have him,” Bohl said. “Tim was at Iowa, and I thought they were going to recruit him. I know he pounded the table and they went a different direction, and we jumped up and down. He’s really embraced Wyoming, and you can just see the athleticism that he has.”
Bohl said Welch has a knack for getting open, and his athleticism often wins out even when he’s not. Welch has received constant praise from coaches this spring for making contested catches, which Welch said has been one of his biggest improvements now that he’s completed the transition from receiver to tight end.
“Just knowing there’s always going to be someone there, you have to be ready for the contact and you have to have tight hands to squeeze and catch the ball,” Welch said. “That’s kind of what I’ve had in my head going up for those 50-50 balls. There’s some tough dudes out here, so you’ve got to be the best at what you do.”
The lack of targets for Welch last season continued a recent decline in UW’s usage of its tight ends in the passing game. The position combined for just 11 receptions during the Cowboys’ pandemic-shortened season, and no UW tight end has caught more than 21 passes in a season since Josh Hollister, who’s beginning his fifth season in the NFL, had 32 receptions in 2016.
Bohl said some of that is on the coaching staff for not finding ways to get the tight ends more involved. Part of it, he said, also has to do with the kind of big-bodied personnel the Cowboys have recently recruited at the position in their run-heavy offense.
But between the new offense and how a skill set like Welch’s fits into it, Bohl said UW is “in a different place” in terms of how it plans to use the tight ends in the passing game in the future.
“We’ve not had, I think, a really dominant tight end since probably Hollister, and he’s had a good NFL career,” Bohl said. “I think there’s a lot out there for Treyton. He owns his work. He works really hard, and he’s got a lot of ability. We’re going to utilize his skill set. If we can have an attacking tight end, it’s going to once again open up that playbook for Coach Polasek.”
Welch will have to start putting up some stats before he can realistically start thinking about the next level, but he expects that to happen, too.
“We’re going to use the tight ends, we’re going to use the receivers, and we’re going to use the backs,” Welch said. “It’s going to be a ballgame.”