Steve Weatherford doesn’t have to look like this. To be a punter in the NFL, you don’t need to be lean and muscular or have six-pack abs. You don’t need 18-inch arms, striated delts, separated pecs, or V-shaped lats.
And although it might seem counterintuitive, you don’t even need big legs.
Punters and placekickers have traditionally been the only average-looking guys on an NFL roster—the guys who fuel the daydreams of regular fans specifically because their physiques are so unremarkable. If an ordinary-looking guy can make a living in the NFL, then maybe we all can. At least that’s the thought. Jeff Feagles, Weatherford’s predecessor on the New York Giants who set league standards of consistency and longevity, was an underwhelming physical presence to say the least. His slight build and balding pate made him look more like a DMV clerk than a professional athlete.
There are a lot of things that make Weatherford an anomaly. For one thing, he’s the first punter who seems tailor-made to transition into TV when he retires; he already appears regularly on Fox and ESPN to talk fitness and football. For another, he’s a philanthropist who is equally generous with his time and money: Look no further than his Project Prom charity or Rush the Punter initiative, both detailed at weatherford5.com.
Then there’s this: despite signing a $12.75 million contract with the Giants in 2012, he drives a family sedan that looks like it’s seen a few too many miles. “It’s an Infiniti… something, I can’t remember,” he says with a laugh. “Me and my wife decided if we were going to have all these kids, then I wouldn’t have too many toys.”
What truly sets him apart, though, is his physique. At 6'2" and 230 pounds, with meticulously shaped symmetrical muscle and a scant 5% body fat, he is a perfect example of an overused term: a freak. Judging by the standards of the IFBB’s physique division, no one in the NFL is fitter than Weatherford—in fact, no one’s even close.
It’s important to remember, of course, that it doesn’t behoove skill position players (wide receivers, running backs, quarterbacks, etc.) to get ripped to the bone like Weatherford; constant contact demands a little more padding, ie, bodyfat. Neverthless, the “NFL’s fittest” distinction, at least in the eyes of this magazine, belongs to Weatherford. For a league filled with physical specimens, it’s a landmark achievement, regardless of the circumstance. No, Weatherford is not the biggest guy in the league and he might not be the strongest or fastest (although his weight room numbers and sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash time could make him competitive with most defensive backs), but in terms of possessing the most enviable—and for so many guys elusive—body, Weatherford is tops. In the fitness industry he is known more for his physique at this point than his exploits on the field. His 110,000-plus Twitter followers continually ask him training and nutrition questions. These spike every “Weatherford Wednesday,” when he dedicates time to answering nearly every question.
Weatherford doesn’t just look the part, either. He has hit a 308-pound power clean for two reps; a 420 back squat for five; a 315 bench for six, and a 475 deadlift for five.
He’s often asked—even by teammates—why he’s so obsessive about his training and nutrition, so the answer he gives is succinct.
“I have little man syndrome,” Weatherford says. “As a kid I was always very athletic and very fast. I was always good at sports, but I wasn’t big and I wasn’t strong. I wasn’t big enough to compete at an elite level, so I developed an elite work ethic. I’m glad that it happened the way it did, because I wouldn’t have developed that work ethic otherwise.”
Steve Weatherford doesn’t have to train today. It’s an off day between off-season team activities in early June, but he arrives at the Giants-run public gym at Hackensack University Medical Center—where he often gives free training and nutrition seminars—at around 10:30 in the morning with his wife, Laura, and their 2-year-old Aurora in tow. He looks a little tired but says he’s ready to go.
“It’s going to be a quick one,” he says. “I’m just doing some light recovery stuff. I did legs yesterday, so I’m taking it easy today.”
He drops Aurora off in the day care room, tosses his bag in his locker, strolls out to the gym floor, and starts a general warmup, foam rolling his legs, jumping rope, and static stretching. He does four sets of 10 at the pullup station and then it’s over to the dumbbell rack. He looks up and down the length of the rack, studying his options. Then, with a twist of the lips that says, Yeah, why not? he turns to the heavy end, grabs a pair of 100-pounders, flops down on the bench, and launches right into four working sets of 10.
"I wasn’t big enough to compete at an elite level, so I developed an elite work ethic. I’m glad that it happened the way it did, because I wouldn’t have developed that work ethic otherwise."
The notion of a “light recovery day” unravels from there. Once he’s sweating, Weatherford has forgotten his original declaration and starts attacking heavy sets of dumbbell rows, Arnold presses, and concentration curls. All the while he’s interacting with fans in the gym, and Tweeting pictures and videos of his workout.
When Laura’s finished with her workout, she comes over to ask him when he’ll be done. He looks confused, grabs his phone to check the time and realizes that 90 minutes have elapsed. “I just have two or three more exercises. That’s it.” Laura decides to leave and grab lunch.
He doesn’t know it yet, but he just lied to his wife. It’ll be another 90 minutes before he calls it quits, because when Weatherford starts walking around a gym, he genuinely can’t help himself. “This is a great machine,” he says, eyeing up a new pin-loaded shoulder press. He attempts to explain how it works, then finds himself demonstrating, then in the midst of another unplanned four sets of 10.
NFL strength and conditioning coaches tend to manage athletes with their own sort of Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. They’re not necessarily interested in pushing athletes as far as they can possibly go, but making sure they stay relatively strong, and above all, healthy enough to compete every Sunday. So what do they think of his extracurricular activities?
“Their concern with me is monitoring me to make sure I’m not overtraining,” Weatherford says. “During the season that’s never an issue because I am so calculated with reps to the pound almost. In the offseason there may be a week where I go a little overboard, but that’s the time to do it, not in September or December. I’m paid to play football, not lift weights. I know that.”
Laura returns over an hour later with lunch and Aurora, looking nonplussed that he’s still training on a supposed off day. Again, Weatherford swears he’s almost done, sneaks in a final set of barbell curls, then hits the ground for the grand finale: A seven-minute rolling plank: 60 seconds straight on, 60 seconds on his right side, 60 seconds on his left, then repeating the sequence in 30 second intervals until seven total minutes have elapsed. By the end, his clothes are soaked and sweat is rolling off his face in sheets. He collapses and rolls on his back. Aurora sees an opening, charging at her dad and screaming, “Ah wa ka!” which, in two-year-old speak, translates to, “I want a kiss!” Her Dad obliges, then holds her up for a Superman ride. She giggles as her dad sets her down and scoops her up for flight, over and over, until finally a plume of drool and snot falls straight from her face into dad’s mouth. Weatherford chokes for a second, then sets Aurora, looking offended, on her feet. For the moment, he’s discovered at least one downside to keeping so few boundaries between business and family.
He scarfs down a chicken breast sandwich on his way out the door, then drives with Laura and Aurora across town to Elite Total Body Cryotherapy. He exchanges pleasantries with the staff, then a minute later strips down to his skivvies and jumps into a cryotube as liquid nitrogen-cooled air—chilled to -250°—is piped in.
It works like a high-tech three-minute ice bath, and Weatherford swears by its recuperative properties. It’s one of a hundred out-of-the-ordinary things he does to maximize health and longevity. Five times a week he rests for 80 minutes in a hyperbaric chamber, and while his supplement regimen contains many of the usual suspects—protein powder and fish oil—it’s loaded with many more uncommon ones like borage oil for heart health, bromelain, collagen type 1 and 3, and hyaluronic acid for joint health. His obsessiveness speaks to how seriously he takes not only his livelihood but also the fact that his 52 teammates depend on him.
It’s a life that would seem impossible to the scrawny kid who grew up in Terre Haute, IN, where Weatherford was a track and field athlete and soccer player. The pitch was where he learned early on that he had a powerful leg, and in high school he held down triple duty on the football team as a safety, placekicker, and punter. He earned a football scholarship to play at the University of Illinois, where he was All–Big Ten First Team, named the most underrated player in the conference in 2005 by SI, and met his wife Laura. They now have three kids: Ace, 7; Carney, 5; and Aurora, 2.
NFL general managers, though, didn’t see the new graduate’s upside right away. In 2006 he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Saints, stayed for three seasons, then skipped around the league, suiting up for three teams in two years before a scare with an erratic heartbeat—paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, PSVT—sidelined him in 2011, when he was with the Jets.
“Ninety percent of the time, people with PSVT were elite athletes as kids,” Weatherford says. “I ran über-competitive track from age 10 until leaving college. Your heart becomes so efficient at pumping blood that your brain thinks your heart is already adult size.”
In Weatherford’s case, his heart developed an extra artery to help distribute the amount of blood his working muscles needed. He underwent cardiac ablation surgery to cauterize the extra artery and has been in the clear ever since, he says, knocking on wood.
The following year, he signed with the Giants, and he now seems to have found a permanent NFL home. His first year in New York ended with a Super Bowl win over the Patriots, with Weatherford setting up the first score of the game: When the Giants’ opening drive stalled around midfield, Weatherford pinned New England at its own 6-yard line with a perfect punt. The next play resulted in a safety.
Looking back on his meandering path, he says he understands exactly why it happened that way.
“It is very easy to trade a punter or a kicker in and out,” Weatherford says. “We don’t have to learn a specific playbook or be tailored to a 3–4 defense...I’m glad it happened. I didn’t want to go to the Giants in my first year, win a Super Bowl, then go to the other teams. Now I realize and appreciate how special this place is, how great it is to win a world championship.”
That attitude explains his insistence on playing out this season despite suffering a high sprain and four torn ligaments in his left ankle during the Giants season opener. The sprain alone would typically sideline a player from four to six weeks, but Weatherford, who kicks with his right leg, didn’t even miss any time the night of the injury. He simply had the trainers tape him up tight and kept going.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” he says. “My training, diet, and preparation can be the only reason for this small miracle.”
The doctors, Weatherford says, are “blown away.”
If they had ever seen him in the gym, they might not be.
Steve Weatherford doesn’t have to wear this tuxedo. It’s Saturday night, four days after his off-day workout in Hackensack and he’s sending out selfies while getting gussied up to go to the prom with a fan. Lauren Delbert, a senior at Bayonne High School in New Jersey, had Tweeted at him a few months prior with a photo of a football on which she had written, “Wanna tackle prom?” She soon discovered that Weatherford’s reputation for doing anything to engage with fans was legit. Without hesitation, he said yes. He’s been talking about it for weeks—to the bewilderment of teammates who can’t wrap their minds around why he’d want to. But Weatherford is anything but self-conscious, and went full-steam ahead with it.
It didn’t hurt that attending the prom dovetailed perfectly with his Project Prom charity, in which he helped provide 20 area kids badly affected by Superstorm Sandy with everything they needed to go to the prom: tuxedoes, hair, nails, tickets, etc.
“After Sandy, I saw all these charities helping people up and down the Jersey shore and other places. They were replacing people’s homes, cars, TVs, Xboxes. But there was nothing being done to replace the life experiences being lost, like these kids and their senior prom—which, for most kids, is probably the biggest deal at that point in their lives.”
Working with school administrators at Southern Regional High School in New Jersey, Weatherford identified the kids who needed the most help, used the weight of his celebrity to secure local donations, and chipped in the rest out of his own pocket.
And yes, he went to that prom, too.
A few weeks later, he was back in his tuxedo with the kids from Southern Regional, tearing up the dance floor and posting photos and videos of everything. The one constant in all the posts: The million-dollar smile plastered on Weatherford’s face. It was genuine and his teammates could tell. When he got back to practice on Monday, they weren’t asking him anymore about why he did it. The only question anyone had was, “Can I do that with you next year?”
“My ultimate mission is to inspire teammates and other celebrities to do the same thing,” Weatherford says. “Not just one high school in the wake of a natural disaster. There are kids out there who simply can’t afford to go, and I want more people to share their blessings.”
Weatherford is sharing his, and in the truest sense of the phrase, he’s making the most of everything he has.