ALLENDALE, Mich. -- Justin Welch is a hulking, imposing figure with the discus or hammer in his hands inside the cage.
The junior thrower from Findlay stands 6-foot-2, and weighs 255 pounds. So it’s hard to believe how he began his track career.
“I started out as a distance runner, a pole vaulter and a discus thrower,” Welch said of middle school in Luckey, Ohio.
“Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I got into track in middle school because my friends were doing it to keep in shape for football.”
A shift to becoming a thrower ended being a good move.
Welch won his second consecutive national title in the hammer throw on Thursday at the 2015 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field National Championships on the campus of Grand Valley State in West Michigan.
“I wanted to throw a little farther, just for myself,” said Welch, whose PR is 72.93 meters. “But I won with the distance I threw so that’s all I could ask for.”
Welch won with a throw of 67.48 meters (221-5 feet) on Thursday to just beat out Masoud Moghaddam, a junior from Texas A&M-Commerce, who had a toss of 66.32 meters (217-7 feet).
“The kid from Texas A&M Commerce threw 66-something on his last throw,” Welch said. “I’m not really surprised. I knew how the rankings were during the season that there were a bunch of guys that were around 65 or 66 [meters]. I knew that anyone could get a big throw and be up there at any time.”
Ashland senior Zac Ball was third 63.20 (207-4), Darien Thornton, a junior from Grand Valley State, was fourth (62.44, 204-10 feet) and in fifth place was Canigga Raynor, a junior from Central Missouri, with a toss of 62.05 (203-7 feet).
Welch, who transferred from Georgia, is getting a very full trophy case. He has two outdoor titles in the hammer and two indoor championships in the weight throw.
“I kinda took over their bookcases with them,” Welch said of his eight overall trophies. “I keep ‘em at my parent’s house.”
His parents, Howard and Mary Welch, made the four-hour drive from western Ohio, just south of Toledo, to see him throw. But then they headed right back home after Welch won.
“The are driving back and fourth,” he said with a smile. “They are driving home right now and they’ll be back [Friday] to watch the discus.” Welch isn’t finished at the meet. He finished second at the national championships last year here in Michigan and he’ll do it again on Friday.
“Right now, I prefer discus,” Welch said. “I usually like the hammer more. But the field is really tight right now. I’m throwing well and the rest of the top guys are throwing really well, too.”
Welch is the No. 2 seed in the discus with a toss of 56.39 meters. The top seed is Raynor with a throw of 57.14.
Welch even picked up the shot put again this year for the first time in college and did well during the indoor season.
“I picked up shot this year,” he said. “During indoor, I had a pretty good season and finished eight [at the championship meet]. But I didn’t do it during outdoor so I could focus on the hammer and the discus.”
Did he ever consider pole vault after middle school?
“I was a big kid then, too,” Welch said with a laugh. “I think I cleared like 9-6 or 10 feet. But I just got too heavy. I don’t think they had a pole stiff enough for me.”