Relegated to the bench in his senior year after playing regularly as an underclassman, defensive tackle Kenny Welcome has found a unique way to end his career on a high note when Tulane faces Temple on Saturday night.
He will the sing the national anthem.
That assignment may not be unprecedented for an active player, but no one around Tulane can recall another example. The 6-foot-1, 282-pound Welcome, a product of McDonogh 35, will do much more than just hug his parents during the pregame ceremony.
“I’ve always joked around about (singing the anthem) as far as my whole time in college, and I know my mom always wanted me to sing it,” Welcome said. “I might be a little nervous because it’s something I’ve never done before, but you lose nerves pretty quickly, probably after the first couple of words or so.”
Welcome has sung for much longer than he has played football, starting when he was about 5 or 6 as a combo act with his piano-playing older brother Dave in front of family and friends.
He branched off to the youth choir at the First Street United Baptist Church in Central City. He has sung at weddings and funerals but never performed the national anthem until he sung a “snippet of it” for ESPN’s cameras during an “All-Access” show it televised from Tulane in October.
Soon afterward, his mom’s dream became a reality. He auditioned for the opportunity to sing the anthem in front of Tulane’s director of marketing, performing Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” to get approval.
His talent surprised no one around him.
“I listen to Luther Vandross a lot and I try to serenade my wife, and it only works about half the time,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “But I listen to him and, golly, he sounds like Luther. He can really, really sing. I’m impressed, and it’s hard to impress me.”
Johnson has had plenty of opportunities to listen to Welcome, who seldom goes a week without belting out a tune during practice.
“He sings all the time, actually,” safety Darion Mornoe said. “I’ve heard him sing in the showers. When we’re walking down the street, he’s singing. On the bus, he’s singing. During warmups, he’s singing. He’s a hell of a singer.”
That singing, and the infectious enthusiasm that accompanies it, has come in handy during an otherwise frustrating year, both individually and for the team. Welcome, who started 11 games in 2012 and two more in 2013, has one tackle as a fifth-year senior, rarely leaving the sideline.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “It’s all part of God’s plan. Early in the season, I accepted my role as more of being a leader to my younger D-linemen and the rest of the defense.”
While Temple (5-6, 3-4 American Athletic) tries to become bowl-eligible, Tulane (3-8, 2-5) is playing for nothing but pride after failing to match last year’s 7-6 record.
When the offense came out sharp in the season opener against Tulsa, the defense played its worst game of the year. When the defense rounded into form midway through the season, the offense went into hibernation.
Welcome’s personality has been a welcome relief for teammates, keeping them from dwelling on the negatives.
“I always tell him, when he sings, I just get happy,” said junior cornerback Lorenzo Doss, who struggled to live up to massive preseason expectations that had him as an All-America candidate and potential early entrant in the NFL draft. “He has an amazing voice. I can’t wait to hear him sing the national anthem. You’d think it was the radio, how good his voice is.”
Welcome’s play on the field has not been at the same level. After making four tackles against UL-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl last December, he appeared to be on the verge of a big closing season with the departure of starting tackles Chris Davenport and Julius Warmsley.
Instead, he fell off the two-deep depth chart as younger players outperformed him.
Most seniors would have sulked, but not Welcome. Majoring in business management, he is optimistic about his future away from football. His parents are back in their New Orleans East home that Katrina inundated with 6 feet of floodwater. They’ve even added a floor to it, and their neighborhood is pretty full again.
Whether or not he makes a tackle against Temple, he will feel no regrets if his longest stint on the field is singing the anthem.
“I just like to always be in a happy spirit, and I love to sing,” he said. “I’m blessed. That’s how I look at it.”