The Wes Welker Foundation has made significant financial donations to Oklahoma City schools' athletic programs, but Saturday afternoon was a celebration of a new venture.
In partnership with the Fields and Futures organization, Welker's foundation awarded a $24,000 grant to supply all necessary equipment to help rebuild soccer, football and softball fields at Jefferson Middle School in south Oklahoma City.
“It looked like a pasture before,” said Welker Foundation executive director Katie Rivers. “The outcome was amazing.”
The Wes Welker Foundation's mission is to help level the playing field for at-risk kids in Oklahoma City through athletics.
“I've dreamed the past five years for us to do a field,” Welker told the crowd. “This is just the beginning. I want you to take ownership in this field, because this is going to be a reflection of what we're going to do at other schools just like this.”
The celebration was scheduled during New England's bye week. A four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver with the Patriots, Welker enjoyed watching the development of a project that includes an irrigation system.
“It's been a cool experience,” Welker said. “We've been able to do a lot of great things. But the middle schools in Oklahoma City don't have anything. This field was a bunch of gravel. It looked bad, no condition for kids to play on. Now it makes you want to get out there and play.”
Welker said his foundation's endeavors inspire him on a daily basis.
“Whenever you don't feel like practicing, you have to pinch yourself and say, ‘It's been a long road but it's been a lot of fun,'” Welker said. “It's tough. It's hard but it's very rewarding, especially when you get to do things like this.”
This is a unique season for Welker. Unable to agree on a long-term extension with New England, Welker signed a one-year, franchise-tag deal. His future with the Patriots is uncertain.
Early in the season, Boston media questioned whether the Patriots were phasing out Welker. He wasn't targeted as much in the first two games. He didn't start one game.
“Everybody needs something to write about,” Welker said. “That was kind of the story of the week. But we moved on from it. We're moving ahead and looking forward to the rest of the season.”
The Patriots certainly aren't phasing out Welker. Midway through the season, the Heritage Hall product is tied for the league lead in receptions (60) and is second in receiving yards (736).
“It's a long season,” Welker said. “You have to just keep pushing forward. We're hoping to have a good second half of the season.”
New England (5-3) leads the AFC East, but once again the offense might have to carry a defense that's ranked 26th in the NFL overall. But the Patriots' defense is ranked in the upper half in points allowed (21.3), an improvement over last season.
“There's a lot that remains to be seen,” Welker said. “We have a lot of improving to do. Hopefully we play our best football in the second part of the season.”
As for his future with the Patriots, Welker's outlook hasn't changed since he signed a one-year deal in July.
“I just take it one day at a time,” Welker said. “I'm just focused on 2012 and being the best player I can be.”