Harry Welch leaves enormous mark in prep football

With Welch's final season underway, the Santa Margarita coach still strives for excellence.

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA, Calif. -- After packing up and leaving Canyon High School as one of the best quarterbacks the school had ever produced, Ken Sollom took off for the University of Michigan to play for the late Bo Schembechler.

Sollom was asked if he'd be OK leaving Southern California to play for the legendary Michigan coach who'd developed a reputation for being tough on players. Would Sollom be able to handle it?

"Oh yes," Sollom responded. "This will be easy. I played for Harry Welch."

It's one of the many stories the now fourth year Santa Margarita head coach likes to tell.

Santa Margarita hosts Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas tonight at 7 p.m. on Prime Ticket.

Former Los Angeles Raider Odis McKinney once told the Los Angeles Times Welch was "the Vince Lombardi of the Valley."

"I worked harder under Welch than I worked with the Raiders," McKinney said.

Welch coached McKinney during his time as an assistant at LA Valley College. It's fitting McKinney used the Lombardi analogy considering the Packers legend is one of the coaches Welch admires the most.

And Welch's numbers speak for themselves. Now in his 25th season as a head coach at the high school level, Welch is the owner of a 46-game winning streak and a 43-game winning streak. He's won nine CIF Southern Section titles, including four in a row from 2006-2009.

He is the only coach in California prep history to win a state championship at three different schools -- at Canyon (2005), St. Margaret's (2008), and his current stop Santa Margarita (2011).

The 68-year-old says 2013 will be his last as a head coach. He's willingly stepping down leaving all of his gridiron accolades behind.

His recipe for success, however, is one that has become tougher and tougher to emulate through the years.

Neither Canyon nor St. Margaret's have won a CIF title since Welch's departure. People inside the Santa Margarita program say Welch came in and changed the culture.

The head coach admits he's never paid much attention to that observation.

However, he admits to being a "strenuous taskmaster" with his assistant coaches, student managers, and players while subscribing to the Lombardi philosophy that perfection cannot be obtained but excellence can be achieved.

With that belief he's tried to squeeze excellence out of the thousands of players he's coached throughout his illustrious career.

"I'm just me and I try to be me every day and I ask my players and members of my staff and wonderful managers to be them every day and to be them at their very best and to strive for excellence," Welch said.

Such excellence has been obtained in many facets of life beyond the gridiron for some of Welch's former pupils.

It's not the All-CIF players or coach of the year awards, CIF titles or state bowls that Welch takes the most pride in. He finds extreme pleasure in the phone calls, emails, and messages he receives from those he once coached, who give him credit for strides they've made in the United States Service Academies.

"In my own little way that's the legacy that I would like," Welch said. "To have people go through my program and be better citizens, be better husbands and wives, friends, parents and contributors to society."

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