Augustana senior quarterback Nick Welch admits that watching for three years as the backup to David Lee wasn’t always the easiest thing to do.

But those days are over now, and Welch believes he’s a better player for the experience. He’s learned from Lee, whom he considers a close friend, and as the Vikings open the 2012 season, he’s ready to pick up where his friend left off and lead Augustana back to the heights the program is accustomed to reaching.

“I’m excited for the opportunity. It’s been a long time coming,” Welch said. “I hope that I’m able to lead this team as well as David was. Obviously, last year we were disappointed in our record, but with a new coaching staff and a new field, there’s a lot of new energy.

“I think we have a chance to be pretty good and we’re going to surprise some people.”

The senior from Oswego, Ill., speaks with a level of confidence befitting of a player who has started from his first day at Augustana, not one who has thrown a grand total of three passes on the college level.

That confidence has impressed his teammates, who clearly believe in their new leader.

“After having a guy like David for that long, it’s a huge spot to fill,” running back Eric Chandler said. “Nick Welch has done a great job leading the pack.

“Nick brings a great amount of leadership. He’s paid his dues through the junior varsity program, and he’s a guy who’s going to be there with you all the time. He’s a fighter and a worker. Now that he’s getting his opportunity, I think he’s going to do the best with it.”

So does Augustana coach Rob Cushman, who showed no hesitation in handing the job to Welch despite a plethora of signal callers at his disposal. The Vikings have nine quarterbacks on the roster, including Orion freshman Colton Schulenberg, but Cushman made it clear that at the moment, the battle is for the right to be Welch’s backup.

“He really has a good sense of the system and the offense,” Cushman said. “He’s a cerebral guy. He understands concepts and what the defense gives us. He just hasn’t had the chance to do it, but that’s the big piece of it.

“It’s one thing to know it. I know it pretty well too at 50-plus years old, but I can’t do it. He’s got to execute, and that’s going to be the challenge, to see if he can apply what he does know and put it to use when the ball is snapped.”

So far, Welch has shown no issues with making that transition. He boasts a strong rapport with his receivers, who believe he has all the tools to make the offense click.

“He can pass very well and knows the offense very well,” junior and Moline graduate Nick Krantz said. “He wants to be a coach someday, so that makes him even better at learning the offense. He’s on top of his game, which every quarterback needs to be.”

That’s no accident. After waiting as long as he has for his chance to come, Welch has no intention of squandering the opportunity.

“(Lee) did tell me to take advantage of it,” Welch said. “He had three years, and I have one if I stay healthy. But it’s something I got to admire him doing for the last two years, and it’s special. Being the quarterback at Augustana is important.

“I’m very excited for the opportunity. It’s not just getting the chance, it’s how you play once you get the chance. I’m happy I got the chance, but I don’t want to just get it. I want to be good at it, and I want to lead this team.”