By Robert Wilson
His nickname is Tank.
And this year Tanner “Tank” Welch will be pushing down defensive lineman at a different football field in Rankin County.
The 6-foot-8, 325-pound rising senior offensive lineman will be playing for MHSAA Class 6A Northwest Rankin this season after playing the last three seasons for MAIS Class 6A Hartfield Academy.
Welch – a member of the first team offensive line on the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson last season and a Southern Miss commitment – is a welcome addition to second-year Northwest Rankin coach Devin Cooper’s Cougars.
Welch is rated as the second-best offensive tackle in Mississippi, No. 85 best offensive tackle in the country and No. 14 best player in Mississippi by 247 Sports. He picked Southern Miss over Louisville and Tulane.
“Tanner wanted to come back to Northwest (he went Northwest Rankin school system until the ninth grade) to compete against the best each week,” said Cooper, who took over at Northwest Rankin after a 35-6 record in three seasons, including a 15-1 mark and MHSAA Class 2A state title in 2018, his first year at Scott Central. “He is hard working young man. Tank is very coachable and has really gained strength and added to his skill set since he has returned. Tank’s big frame gives him an advantage. He will be a great addition to our offensive line. We are ready to see Tank, and the rest of our offensive lineman go into battle together.”
Welch helped Hartfield, in its first season at MAIS Class 6A, to a 9-3 record and a 6A state championship runner-up finish last season. He was playing defensive line when Hartfield stopped Jackson Prep at the goal line on the last play of the game for a 22-17 victory for the first football meeting in school history between the two Rankin County schools. Welch was one of the reasons running back Xavier Davis gained 1,349 yards on 148 carries – 9.1 yards per carry – and scored 20 touchdowns.
Now, he will try to help running backs have big gains at another Rankin County school a few miles east on Highway 25.
Northwest Rankin has 13 returning starters from last year’s team, which finished 2-8 last season. The Cougars have six returning starters on offense, including senior left guard Landon Bridges (6-2, 275), junior center Nash Sturdivant (6-2, 240) and junior right tackle Braylon McKinion (6-3, 260). Northwest Rankin averaged 40.3 points in its last six games last season. “I don’t know of many offensive linemen who are 6-8,” Cooper said. “His size and length make him tough for any defender to work around or through. It he gets that big frame crashing down on a defender, it is tough to escape. Tank does a good job of bending and moving to be a big young man. He will continue to get better as his strength builds.”