THOMSON --- For a long time, Luther Welsh thought he was just a football coach.
But on Saturday, the legendary coach who has given so much for his players and the Thomson community through the years got to see what he meant to others.
"I'm so overwhelmed," Welsh said. "I never thought ... as a football coach, you don't think of this."
Hundreds of people, including family, friends, players and coaches, gathered at the Thomson Depot for Luther Welsh Day. The drop-by event, sponsored by the Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce, provided visitors a chance to make donations for a gift for Welsh.
Welsh, 78, and his wife, Anne, arrived in a limousine led by a police escort, with Welsh wearing his gold Thomson jacket. The couple first met in Sumter and began dating in March 1961. By September, they were married. This year will mark their 50th anniversary. Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell called the two the perfect example of what it means to be a part of high school football.
When the couple walked inside the Depot, they were greeted by people who came to say thanks.
Inside, a projector played pictures of Welsh and his Bulldogs through the years, a television had on the 2002 state championship game tape, black and gold balloons were spread throughout and on a table sat the three state title trophies Welsh won at Thomson.
For more than half a century, Welsh patrolled the sidelines and led the Bulldogs in two different stints for a total of 19 years and ended his coaching career with more than 300 victories. He led Thomson to a 9-3 record in 2010 with a playoff victory just one year after posting his only losing season with the school.
He is battling cancer for the second time, and long-time assistant John Barnett, who dropped off Welsh to chemo treatment on Thursday, said it's going as well as it can. Welsh's youngest daughter, Andrea, said her father has regained 13 points and Welsh said he's feeling better but is still a little weak.
Welsh, who was also given a golf cart with a "Top Dog" plate, plans on going back to his childhood home near Bishopville, S.C.
The coach's brothers, Josey and Tom, along with his sister, Carole, also came.
Josey, who got to use Welsh's car to take his wife on a Florida honeymoon when Welsh was in Alaska while in the Army, recalls growing up working on the farm. It was a place he said "kept us out of trouble" since they often worked when the sun came up and then stopped when the sun went down.
Except when it came time for football -- Welsh said his father allowed them to play.
Since those times, there have been more than a few stops. He joked it must have been a good experience since he wanted to come back and Thomson let him return in 1999.
He first coached at Thomson from 1984-1990 and won state titles in his first two seasons.
The Minnesota Vikings' Jasper Brinkley stopped by, and Leroy Cummings, a player on the 2010 squad, smiled when he thought about the time Welsh turned his hat, got in the three-point stance and ran at Cummings.
"And I felt it," he said.
Deon Palmer, quarterback of the 2002 state championship team, said Welsh is the toughest man he knows, and he fondly recalls Welsh making the offense run a play 30 times until it was done right.
Barnett said Welsh wouldn't ask an assistant to do something he himself wouldn't do. But behind all the hard work, Barnett said there is a caring man with a heart as big as a basketball.
Hopefully, Welsh gets to return home soon to the farmhouse.
"He'll have a few years to take it easy, even though that's not his style," Barnett said. "He's quite a man."