Shawnee High School football coach Tim Gushue remembers driving back from a game at Penn State with his future star quarterback in the backseat, diagramming plays on a clipboard.

"He was five years old," Gushue said of Mike Welsh, the Renegades' standout signal-caller.

That would be a great story if that was the full reach of Gushue's connection with the athlete who will enter Sunday night's South Jersey Group 4 championship game with a chance to make history for himself and his team.

But this coach-player relationship goes back a lot farther than that.

"He was one of the first people at the hospital [after Mike was born]," Tim Welsh, Mike's father and a longtime Shawnee assistant coach, said of Gushue.

Tim Gushue said he held Mike Welsh "when he was six hours old."

On Sunday, Mike Welsh will lead Shawnee into another showdown with familiar championship-game rival Timber Creek at Rowan University.

The game has major implications for Welsh and for Shawnee, as both the quarterback and the team have a chance to earn a unique place in the record books.

But for Welsh, the game's overriding significance is more personal: This will be his last game playing for Gushue, and for his father.

"It hasn't hit me," Mike Welsh said. "I'm trying not to think about it because I know it's kind of sad. I've been so lucky to be able to play for Coach Gushue and to have been able to spend so much time in football with my dad."

Tim Welsh said he has been coaching Mike since his son began playing football as a fourth-grader in the Medford youth program.

Mike Welsh has grown up around the Shawnee football program. He was the little kid who would tag along with his dad to practice, dreaming of playing for the Renegades.

"It's been so long and it's felt so short," Mike Welsh said the other day, looking back at his lengthy relationship with the program.

Welsh has been a four-year varsity player and a three-year starter. He scored his first career touchdown when he entered a game as a reserve against Winslow Township as a freshman, taking a keeper about 40 yards to the house.

"I remember thinking, 'What should I do? Am I allowed to cheer like a dad?' " Tim Welsh recalled.

There have been plenty more highlights during Mike Welsh's career. In his three seasons as a starter, he has led the Renegades to a combined record of 29-6 and three straight appearances in the South Jersey Group 4 title game.

The Renegades won the crown in 2013 and 2014, beating Timber Creek in both championship games. On Sunday, Shawnee will be trying to become the first team from the traditional South Jersey area to win three consecutive Group 4 titles.

Welsh will be seeking to make history of his own. If Shawnee wins, he will become the first athlete since Paulsboro's Kevin Harvey to be the winning quarterback in three straight South Jersey championship games (Harvey won four in a row from 1992-95).

"I'm trying not to think about that," Mike Welsh said of his individual legacy. "It's an awesome opportunity."

Welsh has been the driving force in Shawnee's remarkable run to another sectional title game. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound athlete is 139 for 240 passing for 1,848 yards and 21 touchdowns. He has also rushed 123 times for 693 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Beyond the statistics, Welsh has been the savvy and seasoned senior leader who guided an inexperienced team through a slow start and into a groove that has resulted in an eight-game winning streak.

"He's so into football," Gushue said of Mike Welsh. "His football IQ is off the charts."

Gushue, Tim Welsh and Mike Welsh all understand that the team's quest for another title is far more important than the personal implications of their own intertwined relationships.

Still, they realize this last game will be something special for all of them.

They realize that the final horn on Sunday night will signal a change in a coach-player relationship that dates back to the maternity ward, and a new phase in a father-son relationship that has been grounded in a man and his boy's love for football.

"I'm trying not to let it get to me," Tim Welsh said. "But I know it's going to hit me hard."

@PhilAnastasia