Late bloomer lands on Raiders
Lacrosse: Luke Welton drafted by Okotoks Jr. A club
Wednesday, Feb 15, 2017 06:00 am
What a difference a few years make.
Just a couple seasons removed from taking a hiatus from the sport Luke Welton has found himself selected by the powerhouse Okotoks Jr. A Raiders after being scooped up in the third round of the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League Midget Player Draft on Thursday.
“I’ve been playing for 10 years and only been good for two,” Welton, a Grade 11 student at Holy Trinity Academy, said with a laugh. “I took a year off assessing priorities, figuring out what I wanted to do in progressing in sport. I made the Alberta Summer Games in 2014 for Zone 2, that’s where I realized I could actually become something, where I could grow my skills.
“Once that happened it kind of took off.”
Welton’s ascension in the sport coincided with a move to Okotoks.
After playing a season at the Midget B level, he played A ball for first time as a member of the HOKS – a regional team encompassing Okotoks, High River and Rocky View – where his dad Dave coached. The Hawks won their league banner and Welton went on to represent Team Alberta at the Midget Box Lacrosse Championships in 2016.
As a multi-sport athlete, hitting the gridiron over the past two seasons with the HTA Knights as a safety and slotback was also a boon to his box lacrosse and vice versa.
“Football is so much more structured, so much more system run,” he said. “With football, I was always training, always practicing and I really built my work ethic up so I could transfer that in to lacrosse.”
When a future in lacrosse began to blossom, Junior A was always the destination.
“This has pretty much been my goal. I was never really that good and then I thought I’m going to get serious, grind my butt off,” he said. “Then hopefully make something happen. I’ve been working super hard, taking all my opportunities and trying to make the best of what I get.
“It paid off and it’s so satisfying.”
The Okotokian joins the most successful program in the short history of the Jr. A division.
The Raiders, five-time provincial champions and finalists for eight years running, are annual favourites for the league crown alongside the arch rival Calgary Mountaineers.
“I’m super hyped on the coaching staff,” he said. “It’s one of those programs you look at and say ‘I want to be a part of that.’ Excellent ball players, just something I’ve always looked up to and thought ‘I wish I could play like that.’”
Welton showcased his hard-hitting, physical style at a Raiders open-floor time and during the draft combine at the Saddledome the week prior to selection night.
He had a good feeling he might be wearing Raiders red down the road.
“I went out to one of the Raiders floor times and had a really good tryout and just got a good vibe. I had good talks with the coaches, everything went perfect,” Welton said. “I had a good combine.
“Even though there’s a lot at stake, you’re out there with your friends, out there playing and trying to encompass the whole vibe of the sport.”
The Raiders have been tracking the young athlete for some time.
His strengths should fill some of the team’s deficiencies on the back-end.
“It really stood out that Luke wasn’t afraid of contact, he wasn’t going to shy away from the physical play,” said Raiders head coach/GM Andrew McBride. “That’s something we’ve been lacking. We try to go skill and implement that, but the physicality Luke Welton is going to bring to our lineup for years to come is going to be imposing.”
Work commitments prevented Welton from getting the good news in person at the live draft.
It wasn’t long before he got the message again and again on the mobile.
“I had to work, it was a little bit of a bummer, but you’ve got to add that mystery,” Welton said. “I got a text from my dad … then they just rolled in, all my friends, coaches, everybody.”
Also receiving congratulations is a former and future teammate. High River’s Brendyn Kendall, a goaltender with the HOKS and Team Alberta, was taken in the seventh round by the Raiders.
“He’s a really committed lacrosse goalie,” McBride said. “He plays his angles very well, does a lot of great things in between the pipes. He reacts in a smart manner, we’re impressed with the poise he showed with some of our shooters when he came out.
“It’s a position that’s probably the hardest in lacrosse and whenever you can add some pieces in goaltending it’s going to bode well for our future.”
Rounding out the local contingent, Foothills product Jared Ferris was selected in the seventh round by the Mountaineers.
He joins established defenders in Okotoks’ Ryan McLean and DeWinton’s Tom Fream on the roster.
For the full list of draft results go to rockymountainlax.com
Registration is underway for the Okotoks Raiders Lacrosse Association for the rapidly approaching minor box lacrosse season.
The Raiders are offering a $100 discount on registration fees for first-time registrants until Feb. 28.
For more information go to okotokslacrosse.com.