TERRE HAUTE —
The last time most of us saw Steve Weatherford was Jan. 24 when he punted four times for the New York Jets against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game.
Although Weatherford averaged an impressive 51 yards per punt that day in Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts ended up winning 30-17 to earn the right to face the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.
Weatherford will be back in action next Saturday, but for a different reason. He’s returning to his old high school — Terre Haute North — to put on a free football camp for players in grades 9-12.
That’s right, I said “free.”
Camp activities will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A free lunch will be provided for camp participants.
There’s that “f” word again.
“This year is kind of a trial run [for the camp],” Weatherford explained in a phone interview Friday.
“Eventually, I’d like to do two different things. I’d like to do the kids camp and I’d also like to do a celebrity dinner/auction type thing as a fundraiser someday. I’m still kicking some things around with [Vigo County School Supt.] Danny Tanoos. We might set up a scholarship fund … but I think a lot of people in Terre Haute would have a good time with it.”
But first things first — the 2010 Steve Weatherford Vigo County School Corp. All-Star Camp.
“I’m very excited about it,” he emphasized. “The guys I’ve got coming are excited. It should be fun for everybody.”
Weatherford said if heavy rain or storms hit next Saturday, the entire camp will move inside to North’s gym. He prefers to be an optimistic weather forecaster, however, predicting 84 degrees with a light breeze and no precipitation.
Camp attendees will learn about football fundamentals for various positions, weight training and conditioning, how to prepare for college football and how to handle life after football as well as receive autographs from the pros and be part of a “team picture” with the pros.
Applications for the Steve Weatherford Vigo County School Corp. All-Star Camp are available at any Vigo County middle school or high school and at the VCSC central office.
Helping Weatherford with coaching duties will be quarterback Eric Ainge and cornerback Marquice Cole of the Jets, offensive lineman Michael Toudouze of the Colts and tight end Jamie Petrowski — another North graduate — of the Carolina Panthers. Other Vigo County coaches and former players will assist Weatherford and his crew.
For more information about the camp, call (812) 462-4458.
Preparing for his fifth pro season, his second with the Jets, the 27-year-old Weatherford sounds like he can’t wait to see how the new-look Jets will perform in 2010. As most NFL fans know, they’ve added LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Cromartie, Jason Taylor and Santonio Holmes to an already-talented team since last season ended.
“We’ve got so many [past and current] Pro Bowlers now … it’s really exciting,” Weatherford noted. “This is the first time in the five years I’ve been in the NFL that I’ve really looked forward to training camp. I love my coach. Rex Ryan is the best coach I’ve had as far as being really good to the players. The guys on the team have a lot of respect for him.
“You look at us on paper. We’ve got the No. 1-rated defense in the NFL. But you flip over to the offense, with Mark Sanchez developing as a quarterback, and we’re pretty scary there too.”
Thinking of my upcoming fantasy football drafts, I couldn’t resist asking Weatherford about Tomlinson, who some experts think is on the decline as a running back at age 31.
“He’s a great guy,” Weatherford stressed. “I think he’s more excited about this season than anybody else is. He thinks he’s really got something to prove… I’m really fired up to see what he’s going to do this year.”
Weatherford acknowledged that the Jets are likely to pass more frequently than they did last season, but don’t expect them to copy the Colts’ offensive philosophy.
“We’re going to throw more than we did last year,” he mentioned, “but our meat and potatoes will still be shoving it down your throat [with running backs Shonn Greene and Tomlinson].”
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Weatherford says, personally, he feels great since undergoing a surgery in March in Morristown, N.J., to correct a rapid heartbeat, which was caused by a genetic condition. And even though the Jets have added another punter — T.J. Conley — to their roster, he looks forward to reporting to training camp Aug. 1 at Cortland, N.Y.
“I’ve had to compete for my job every year,” Weatherford pointed out. “It doesn’t bother me. Frankly, I punt better when there’s competition. I guess that’s what keeps me working as hard as I do.”
Weatherford said he’d like to continue playing in the NFL at least another five years and win at least one Super Bowl, preferably this season.
“This is the best shape that I think I’ve ever been in, as far as being ready for training camp,” he said. “I’ve lost 10 pounds, but I’ve had testing done that determined I actually have more muscle now than I had before.”
Weatherford admits that he still thinks about that loss to the Colts in January, but there’s nothing he can do about it now.
“At halftime [with the Jets leading 17-13], I would have bet the farm that we were going to win that game,” he said. “But Peyton [Manning] just has an uncanny ability to dissect defenses, even defenses as complex as ours is.”
Weatherford, who has a 2 1/2-year-old son (Ace) and 8-month-old daughter (Carney) with his wife Laura, also admits that he’s preparing for a players lockout by NFL owners in 2011. His family lives in New York and he leases his former home in Mandeville, La.
“I’ve got mouths to feed, but I’m putting a couple bucks aside in the event that [a lockout] does happen,” he said. “I don’t foresee it happening, but you just never know.”
David Hughes can be reached by phone after 4 p.m. at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.