Legendary wide receiver Wes Welker was no stranger to adversity.
Many college football programs gave him the cold shoulder treatment.
Welker didn’t receive an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine.
The then-San Diego Chargers abruptly released him during his rookie year in 2004.
Some eleven years later, he had racked up 9,924 receiving yards and 50 touchdowns in his 12-year NFL career.
By the time Welker played in his final NFL down, he held fourteen NFL records, led the league in receptions three times, and earned five Pro Bowl berths.
Clearly, the wide receiver known as “The Natural” used adversity to propel himself to greater heights.
Long story short, Wes Welker is the perfect example of a gridiron warrior who was small in stature but big in heart.
Wesley Carter “Wes” Welker was born to parents Leland and Shelley in Oklahoma City, OK on May 1, 1981.
He has an older brother, Lee.
When Wes was around two or three days old, four-year-old Lee couldn’t resist pinching his newborn brother’s nose.
Unfortunately, he pinched it a bit too hard, per ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill.
Wes has always been a bundle of energy since he was born.
According to Merrill, he was just two-and-a-half years old when he climbed a tree for the first time.
When he reached the roof, he stayed there until his father Leland, an engineer at Southwestern Bell, arrived from work.
“Hell on wheels from the get-go,” the older Welker told ESPN some twenty-four years later.
Lee and Wes played football and soccer together when they were growing up in Oklahoma.
Lee never let his younger brother win at anything. He told ESPN in 2008 Wes either had to quit playing or toughen up.
A young Wes Welker regularly rode his bike to Nichols Hills Pharmacy where he gorged on hamburgers and chili. Of course, he let his parents pay for his food.
When a 27-year-old Welker was in his first season with the New England Patriots in 2008, he still billed his hamburgers to his dad, per Merrill.
Thanks Dad, for always teaching me to be humble, to turn the other cheek, and to treat everyone how I would want to be treated! And to celebrate with my teammates after TD’s! I did stray at times, but you never stopped loving me! Thank you! HFD! Love you! pic.twitter.com/cel5vEAgcR
— Wes Welker (@WesWelker) June 21, 2020
Welker attended Heritage High School in his hometown from 1996 to 2000.
One of the most memorable and funniest moments of Welker’s high school life was dressing up as Britney Spears during a pep rally.
Oklahoma television station KWTV obtained the video of Welker dressed up as the pop star.
Welker also once dressed up as Christina Aguilera and performed her hit single “Genie In A Bottle.”
His former teacher Betsy Horn told UPI.com’s Caroline Lee in September 2013 Welker’s pep rally antics cracked everybody up:
“He was a superstar in the homecoming pep assembly lip sync contest in his senior year.”
“He was a backup dancer. Probably the one that brought the house down was his portrayal of Britney Spears.”
For his part, Welker didn’t deny the facts.
“Gosh, I’d love to say false there, but I did,” Welker told Lee. “I’d love to say false, but they have me on video. I’ve already bought them off, so you won’t be seeing that anytime soon.”
While Welker may have a goofy side, he was a virtuoso on the gridiron.
He was a running back, defensive back, punt returner, and kicker for the Heritage Chargers.
Ironically, Welker’s first team in the National Football League has the same nickname.
Wes Welker has ridiculous high school stats. pic.twitter.com/G9U7mIgh60
— Sean McConnell (@SeanMcConnell92) August 8, 2013
Welker had 80 rushing touchdowns, 190 tackles, and 22 interceptions as a running back and defensive back.
He also had seven punt returns for touchdowns in his high school football career. Welker also had 35 field goals and 165 PATs as a kicker. The longest field goal he made was from 58 yards out.
Welker led the Chargers to the 2A state title over Tishomingo High School in his junior year.
He played on both sides of the ball and finished with 200 all-purpose yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Welker even had a 47-yard field goal for good measure.
The Daily Oklahoman named him its All-State Player of the Year while USA TODAY named him Oklahoma State Player of the Year in 1999.
Welker suited up in the 2000 Oil Bowl in his senior year. He had a 40-yard field goal for the Oklahoma team.
Wes Welker’s early accomplishments on the football field didn’t come as a surprise to anybody. His work ethic set him apart from the other players.
In Merrill’s words, he’d vomit “at least every other week during a game.”
Chargers head football coach Rod Warner told ESPN Welker didn’t vomit because he was nervous.
“It wasn’t nerves,” Warner said. “He just pushed his body so hard. The people in the stands would just start applauding. He gave it all every single drill, every sprint, every play.”
Behind Walker’s exploits, the Chargers turned their fortunes around.
Prior to his arrival in 1996, Heritage Hall won ten games once in a 30-year span.
When he came on board, the Chargers averaged eleven wins per season.
Despite the 5’9″, 185-lb. Wes Welker’s impressive all-around game on the gridiron, college football recruiters didn’t pay much attention to him because of his size.
Warner faxed 105 colleges and universities so he could help his prized wide receiver play college football.
He reached out to his friend Tommy McVay, who oversaw recruitment and administrative duties for the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Warner made his sales pitch to McVay. He told him Welker was “the best player I’ve ever coached,” per ESPN.
McVay didn’t bite. He told Warner every head football coach says that.
Fortunately, when a Texas Tech Red Raiders recruit gave up his scholarship, the school gave it to Welker instead.
Welker traveled to Lubbock after signing day. His parents followed suit. They drove 350 miles southwest to Lubbock, TX.
Shelley Welker told Merrill that Texas Tech felt like a natural fit for her son.
RIP Tommy! We honor you today! Love and miss you buddy! pic.twitter.com/gwjK0jCJVc
— Wes Welker (@WesWelker) August 22, 2020
When McVay passed away on August 13, 2020, Wes Welker paid tribute to the man who took a chance on him:
“My heart is broken today with the passing of Tommy McVay,” he told the Red Raiders’ official website. “Throughout my life, there have been few people who took a chance on me, and Tommy was the first. As an 18-year-old kid that nobody wanted, he believed in me.”
Unheralded Wes Welker would become one of the best wide receivers in Texas Tech football program history.
College Days With The Texas Tech Red Raiders
Wes Welker majored in business at Texas Tech University.
When he set foot in Lubbock, TX, Texas Tech Red Raiders wide receivers coach Art Briles gave him a new nickname: “The Natural.”
It seemed fitting for Welker, whose diminutive stature belied his incredible work ethic and athleticism.
“I remember when they brought him in, he was 5’7″ and very unassuming. I thought he looked like a frat guy.”
“We’re offering this kid a scholarship? Definitely on looks, he didn’t pass the test. But on the field, he was an unbelievable kid.”
Welker went to work right away. He showed everyone his new moniker fit him to a T. He also proved Kingsbury’s hunch was spot on.
Welker had a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown in just his fourth college football game against Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns.
Welker duplicated his feat against the Kansas Jayhawks just five weeks later. He returned the punt from 66 yards out into the end zone.
Wes Welker eventually became one of the best special teams players in college football history.
His eight punt returns for touchdowns tied an NCAA record.
100 days! pic.twitter.com/OFjkIrOzZ2
— Wes Welker (@WesWelker) May 24, 2019
Fellow Red Raiders wide receiver Mickey Peters told the team’s official athletics website in 2013 Welker’s ability to move his hips so easily allowed him to elude defenders.
Welker got off to a slow start as a true freshman wide receiver in the 2000 NCAA season. He had 334 yards on 26 receptions that year.
However, he had a rushing touchdown and two punt returns for touchdowns in 2000.
Welker kicked things up a notch in his next three seasons in Lubbock.
He averaged seven receiving touchdowns per year during that span. He also racked up six more punt returns for touchdowns to set the NCAA record.
During Welker’s four-year stint with the Red Raiders, Mike Leach’s squad averaged four wins per season.
They played in four bowl games and won two – the 2002 Tangerine Bowl against the Clemson Tigers and the 2003 Houston Bowl against the Navy Midshipmen.
Wes Welker concluded his college football career with 3,069 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns on 259 receptions.
He earned Second Team All-Big 12 honors in 2002 and First Team All-Big 12 honors the year after.
Welker also won the Mosi Tatupu Award – an award given to college football’s special teams player of the year – after his senior season.
He also made it to Sports Illustrated’s All-Decade Team as a punt returner.
Welker was a natural on the gridiron. He was also a natural prankster.
One day, he and Red Raiders co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith purchased two hairless rats from a pet store.
“We threw them in the meeting room, locked the door, and turned the lights off,” Smith told TexasTech.com. “Everyone is screaming.”
Kingsbury recalled the moment when his big teammates stood on tables at the sight of the two rodents.
A decade after Welker played his final down for the Red Raiders, he hadn’t changed one bit.
“He’s still the same person,” Smith told Texas Tech’s official athletics website. “That just shows you what kind of character and what kind of guy he is.”
That trend continued well beyond Welker’s NFL career.
The next chapter of Wes Welker’s life is a testament a footballer can rise from relative obscurity and establish a legacy on and off the gridiron.
Pro Football Career
Despite Wes Welker’s sterling college football resume, NFL scouts didn’t pay him much attention.
In fact, he was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN in February 2004.
Nonetheless, the Welker family remained unfazed. They held two draft parties two months later confident an NFL team would draft Wes.
Alas, no call came.
Welker’s high school football coach Rod Warner told him not to worry since he had other options.
“Don’t even go there, Coach,” Welker told him (via ESPN). “I’m going to make it in the NFL. There’s no other option.”
The then-San Diego Chargers eventually signed Welker as an undrafted free agent.
Unfortunately, they released him after the first regular-season game of the 2004 NFL season when they claimed safety Clinton Hart off waivers.
Remember when Marty Schottenheimer cut Wes Welker for Clinton Hart? anyone? no? Yea. pic.twitter.com/kyHuXOSN
— Kenneth (@keninem43) January 21, 2013
Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer offered Welker a spot on their practice squad.
Welker declined after San Diego spurned him even though he worked his tail off in training camp.
Besides, the Miami Dolphins dangled a better contract. Better yet, they gave him a more realistic shot at moving up the depth chart.
Prior to the New England Patriots’ Week 10 game against the New York Jets in 2011, Schottenheimer caught up with Welker.
Schottenheimer told him releasing him seven years earlier was the biggest mistake he ever made.
Welker just chuckled. He had defied insurmountable odds yet again.
“Of all the people I was involved in letting go – and I can’t really remember many others – but I can guarantee you one guy I will never forget is Wes Welker. He has a unique ability,” Schottenheimer told NESN.com in January 2012.
One of Welker’s friends told ESPN he was still “massively pissed off” at the Chargers many years after his release.
In Welker’s three seasons in Miami, he took the field mainly as a kickoff return specialist. He had a franchise record 3,756 kickoff return yards and one kickoff return for a touchdown.
He also became just the second player in NFL history to return a kickoff and a punt, make a field goal and an extra point, and record a tackle in the same game.
The Dolphins were a mediocre football team that won an average of seven games per year during Welker’s tenure in South Florida.
Welker had breakfast with Warner the day after the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI in Miami.
Welker asked his high school football coach if he’d like to watch another Super Bowl live.
“Wes, the next Super Bowl I’ll go to is the one you’re playing in,” Warner said (via ESPN).
Warner’s words couldn’t have been more prophetic.
When the Dolphins traded Welker to the New England Patriots for two draft choices in March 2007, his NFL career really took off.
Not only did he become one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets, but he also had a realistic shot at winning a Super Bowl title every year.
Welker also solidified the Patriots’ receiving corps that included the great Randy Moss.
Wes Welker made his first Super Bowl appearance against the New York Giants on February 3, 2008.
It had been just a year since that Super Bowl conversation with Rod Warner.
Prior to Super Bowl XLII, it had been nine years since college football recruiters ignored him. It also had been four years since the Chargers released him.
Now, Welker was on the verge of earning his first Super Bowl ring.
He would never have gotten this far had he not been resilient.
“We tried to teach that, to run after your dreams, don’t let people tell you no,” Welker’s mom Shelley told Merrill in January 2008. “That’s why it’s such a great story. When one door would close, another one would open.”
Unfortunately, the Giants foiled the Patriots’ undefeated season and Super Bowl quest with a resounding 17-14 win.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Welker played his guts out. His 11 receptions for 109 yards tied a Super Bowl record.
He joined the ranks of Dan Ross, Jerry Rice, and Deion Branch as the only players in Super Bowl history to record that many catches.
January 3, 2010
Wes Welker tears his ACL in Game 16 vs the Houston Texans., a huge blow to the Pats playoff chances.
One bright note, rookie Julian Edelman replaces Welker in the game and has his first 100 yard receiving game of his career (10 rec – 103 yds) pic.twitter.com/7pX5vwItWM
— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) January 3, 2021
It normally takes many athletes a year to recover from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear.
Not Wes Welker, though.
Welker sustained a torn MCL and ACL injury after Houston Texans safety Bernard Pollard hit him in a Week 17 game in the 2009 NFL season.
Welker put in an insane amount of work into his rehab. Consequently, he recovered from his ACL injury in just five months.
Welker told Sports Illustrated (via TexasTech.com) in 2013 he gained an advantage on other players during his time off from the gridiron:
“Guys will play basketball with their boys and think that’s their workout for the day,” Welker quipped. “That’s not a workout. I wish they gave us more time off, to be honest. This is where I gain on other players.”
9 years ago today, Tom Brady threw for 517 yards including this 99-yard touchdown to Wes Welker.
It’s a Monday Night Football record, a Patriots team record and the 8th most passing yards in a single game in NFL history.pic.twitter.com/Ztc6EAr1cO
— Guy Boston Sports (@GuyBostonSports) September 12, 2020
Welker’s 99-yard touchdown reception in a 38-24 win over the Miami Dolphins in September 2011 tied a league record for the longest play from scrimmage.
Welker took the field for Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants in February 2012.
His second Super Bowl stint wasn’t as productive. He had 60 receiving yards on seven receptions in the 21-17 loss to New York.
Despite falling short on his quest for a Super Bowl ring, Wes Welker played like a Hall-of-Fame wide receiver for New England from 2007 to 2012.
Welker had at least 1,165 receiving yards in five of his six seasons with the Patriots.
He led the league in receptions in 2007, 2009, and 2011. Welker also earned five Pro Bowl, two First-Team All-Pro, and two Second-Team All-Pro nods in New England.
When Welker became an unrestricted free agent after the 2012 NFL season, he signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Denver Broncos.
He joined forces with legendary Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
“I mean, really, that was kind of by design,” Welker told Yahoo! Sports’ Michael Silver in June 2013. “There weren’t too many quarterbacks that I would’ve gone out there and played with.”
Tom Brady quickly put in a good word for Welker.
“He’s one of my favorite players I ever played with and you’re really gonna enjoy playing with him,” Brady said in a text message to Manning (via Yahoo! Sports).
The Broncos welcomed back Wes Welker to practice today. pic.twitter.com/bnzaAgOkbs
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) September 17, 2014
Welker had a combined 1,242 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in his two seasons in the Mile High City.
He had 84 receiving yards on eight receptions in Denver’s 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The then-St. Louis Rams signed Welker to a one-year, $1.8 million deal on November 9, 2015.
He saw action in eight games and had a career-low 102 receiving yards on 13 receptions.
Welker played in his final NFL down after the 2015 campaign.
He had 9.924 receiving yards and 50 touchdowns on 903 receptions in his 12-year NFL career.
Welker also holds fourteen NFL records, including most seasons with at least 105 receptions (five), at least 110 receptions (five), and at least 115 receptions (three).
While Welker worked his tail off during his NFL football career, he also had a flip side. It was a throwback to his high school days when he impersonated Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
For instance, Welker fooled legendary quarterback Peyton Manning into thinking they had to go shirtless for their Sports Illustrated cover shoot.
Manning panicked. Welker and their other teammates cracked up.
That was classic Wes Welker for you.
Wes Welker and his wife Anna Burns have three children. They welcomed their twins in 2015.
Happy Valentine’s Day to the most beautiful girls in the world! pic.twitter.com/tjIvCQksKS
— Wes Welker (@WesWelker) February 14, 2021
Welker had at least six concussions during his 12-year NFL career.
He told ESPN’s Mike Reiss in July 2017 he wasn’t going to worry about their long-term ramifications:
“I can’t sit here and worry about it,” Welker said. “Is there a possibility? Maybe, I don’t know. We’ll have to see how everything kind of happens, I guess.”
Welker also admitted to Reiss he had a tough time making the transition into retirement:
“This past year has been tough because, ‘What do you do?’ You have nothing to do. So you’re sitting there saying, ‘What will I do with myself?'”
“You can’t just sit here and drink twelve beers a day and think everything is going to be cool.”
Fortunately, the Houston Texans came to Welker’s rescue.
They hired him as their offensive and special teams assistant coach in January 2017.
Welker is currently the wide receivers coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
The Welker family established the Wes Welker Foundation (initially named the 83 Foundation) in 2007.
Since its launch, the foundation has granted more than $2 million to over thirty-five schools and organizations in the Oklahoma City area, per its official website.
— WesWelker Foundation (@WesWelkerFDN) January 11, 2019
Welker has a chocolate labrador named Nash. He named him after legendary NBA point guard and current Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash.
He also owns a racehorse named Undrafted. The thoroughbred earned an estimated $773,000 in combined prize money in 2014 and 2015.