When the conversation is on the strength and muscularity of an NFL player, the usual positions that come to mind are defensive line, linebacker and tight end. Even running backs have known to be jacked, as well. But a punter? Not very often.
Except if your name happens to be Steve Weatherford, that is.
“There are sacrifices that you have to be willing to make to be in the NFL,” says Weatherford, 30. “I (basically) train 365 (days a year). I take 14 days off after the season ends and then I begin my offseason training program.”
It wasn’t always like that for the New York Giants punter, who began high school with a 5’8”, 108-pound frame – one that wasn’t ready for the rigors of football. “I was the smallest guy on my (soccer) team,” he recalls. “I had no power, so I figured that if I was going to be shortest, then I’m going to be the strongest.”
To get there, the teenager “lived in the weight room for four years” and lifted five days per week, up to three hours every day. Weatherford arrived to school early and hit the weights, then had a weight training elective gym class and did his final session after classes ended. “I didn’t know about overtraining,” he says, “and then I played the games on weekends.”
At the age of 16, Weatherford’s weekends also included football games. He was a busy young man and always played at least two sports at a time – with football, soccer, basketball, running track and even becoming an All-American decathlete. By the time he graduated, Weatherford had hit a growth spurt and entered college standing at 6’3” and weighing 225 pounds.
Upon entering the University of Illinois, Weatherford also played safety for two years and then concentrated on being a punter, the position that he felt could take him to the next level. That proved to be the right move, as the New Orleans Saints signed him in 2006. He was able to learn from John Carney, one of the best kickers in the game, who played in the NFL for 23 years.
Special teams players such as punters rarely stay with one team for very long, and Weatherford was no exception. He played for the Chiefs, Jaguars and Jets before becoming a Giant in 2011. In that magical campaign, Big Blue roared all the way to the Super Bowl championship and Weatherford had a lot to do with the title run. He had a then-career high average of 45.7 yards per punt during the regular season and seemed to get stronger as the year went on. He also set a record for punts inside the 10-yard line in a Super Bowl, helping pin Tom Brady and the Patriots deep in their own end during the upset win in Indianapolis in SB XLVI.
That was certainly no stroke of luck, as Weatherford went through a train-and-error period as a professional in order to find out the exact workout routine that worked best for him to stay effective as the weeks mounted.
“In my rookie season in New Orleans, I lost 15 pounds and didn’t know how to handle it,” he can say with a slight laugh now. “It’s an educating process. Earlier on, I didn’t train as hard during the season, but after 10 or 12 games, I felt like I was losing strength and pop in my legs. So I ratcheted up my training and I have been punting my best (later in the season). I’m learning my craft better. I don’t think that I’m punting further or higher from when I was a rookie, but I haven’t had a lull during the season.”
Further proof is the fact that Weatherford’s average has gone up in each of the last four seasons. In 2012, his average went up to 47.5 and has a very effective strategy. “I’m a good directional punter and put it towards the sidelines,” Weatherford says. “Return guys don’t like me because I never kick the ball straight at them.”
They may also dislike him for the hits he is able to deliver with his strength and 212-pound, five-percent body fat physique. Weatherford doesn’t train like a lineman would, but can still put up some impressive numbers in the weight room. Squatting 475 pounds and benching in the 400-pound range have made him a unique punter, indeed, and one that garners immediate respect – albeit in a different way – from his fellow Giants.
“My teammates give me a hard time because I look better than 99 percent of them,” he says with a wide grin. “I fit in with the safeties and running backs (appearance-wise). I never let anyone work harder than me – not just to train harder, but also train smarter.”
But perhaps the most impressive thing about this talented young man has nothing to do with what occurs between the hash marks on the gridiron, but rather in places one would never expect.
“I’ve found my home with the New York Giants,” he says. “They embraced me and you want to take care of the people in your community. Any time that I want to get out and help, there are tons of people behind the scenes that are willing to help.”
Last year following Hurricane Sandy, Weatherford and his “Kicks For Kids” charity contacted a Wal-Mart store in Brick Township, New Jersey with an offer. They agreed to match his donation of $7,000 to take a group of 30 children Christmas shopping for toys. “So I brought a few teammates with me and we gave each kid $200 and told them to go have a blast and pick anything out they wanted. They grabbed their favorite toys and after that, we surprised them with another $200 each to go buy gifts for their family members.”
One of his upcoming charity events is entitled “Project Prom,” which will be an essay contest with students from New Dorp High School in Staten Island, New York – another area ravaged by the October storm. “I’m real proud of this one and came up with it all on my own,” Weatherford says. “We’ll pick 20 kids – 10 guys and 10 girls and we’ll have volunteers from the Miss Teen U.S.A. and Miss Universe Organization, myself and nine Giant teammates as their dates for the night.”
The married father of three is more than willing to sacrifice his free time for these functions, which he says that he “feels blessed” to be able to do.
“Since I’ve been in the NFL, I don’t have any hobbies like fishing,” he explains. “I don’t have the time anymore. But it’s so important to do these things, like charities for the 9-11 first responders. The Fire Department, Police Department…these people put their lives on the line for peanuts.”
Heroes are certainly not made in one day, and neither are punters. Steve Weatherford can attest to both.
By | Joe Pietaro