On Thursday, Air Force center Nick Welch was placed on the preseason all-Mountain West Conference team. On Friday, he was placed on the shelf for the 2005-06 season.
Welch, the league’s co-player of the year in 2003-04, effectively will redshirt this season because of a left ankle injury and hope to return for a senior campaign in 2006-07. Welch officially won’t redshirt because the academy doesn’t grant them. Instead, he has been given a “medical turnback,” meaning Welch has withdrawn from the academy for the rest of the semester. Welch will return to school in January and in essence complete his senior year over the next three semesters. “Obviously I’d be faced with a tough challenge to come back and try to play this year and possibly re-injure my- self,” Welch said. “They’ve given me time to get completely healthy and not only my body but my grades because I got so far behind in all my classes.” Academy spokesman John Van Winkle said Welch was not granted the turnback and extra semester because of basketball. Welch had knee surgery in April and broke his foot in July playing a pickup game, which necessitated another surgery. Last month, Welch underwent a procedure in which a piece of his Achilles’ tendon was used to fuse a tendon in his ankle. In the recovery process, Van Winkle said Welch had fallen far enough behind in his academic and military work to merit a turnback. His case was approved by a Cadet Medical Evaluation Board and academy superintendent Lt. Gen. John Rosa. “His injury basically has caused him to miss enough class where the best decision is to take him out of the cadet wing, give him time to heal up and come back and hit the next semester full force,” Van Winkle said. “Sports has nothing to do with this. We’re looking at what his injury is, and his ability to graduate.” Welch said the extra semester will help him complete an economics degree, which was his original track at the academy. After his surgeries, Welch said he had to switch to social science, which requires fewer credit hours. After Welch had the ankle surgery, he said he wasn’t interested in a redshirt situation, preferring to try for a February comeback. That changed, however, when he saw how difficult it would be to graduate this year. “If I had finished out the semester, most likely I’d have been deficient in some of the classes,” Welch said. “I think it’s the best thing for the academy and myself.” The Falcons had their first practice Friday night in advance of the Nov. 13 opener against Northern Arizona at the BCA Classic in Seattle. Finding a capable replacement for Welch will be one of coach Jeff Bzdelik’s biggest challenges. “I’m just looking for a cohesive group that works efficiently together,” Bzdelik said.