TERRE HAUTE —
If you ask NFL punter Steve Weatherford if he thinks the owners’ lockout of players will end soon enough to begin the season on time Sept. 8, you probably won’t like his answer.
“I hope and pray that I’m wrong,” he added, “but the sides are too far apart right now.”
Weatherford, 28, is in Terre Haute this week to participate in the Kris Eaton Family Benefit Night. The event was postponed Wednesday by this incredibly depressing weather we’ve been having lately and rescheduled for today at North High School, Weatheford’s alma mater.
A barbecue dinner is slated for 6 p.m. in the cafeteria. Cost of the meal will be $7.
At about 7, a benefit basketball game — featuring Weatherford and New York Jets teammate Marquice Cole as well as former Indiana State basketball standouts Michael Menser, Matt Renn and Nate Green and future Sycamore basketball forward Justin Gant — will take place in the main gym.
“I don’t think I’m going to go for a triple-double,” predicted the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Weatherford, who hasn’t played organized basketball in about seven years. “But I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun.”
Admission for the game will be $5 or the purchase of a $10 T-shirt.
The event was organized by the Gant family to assist the family of the late Kris Eaton, a former Vigo County School Corp. employee and mother of former North basketball player Brett Taylor, with medical and funeral expenses. She died of lung cancer May 4.
“I was very close with the Gants when I was in high school [in the late 1990s and early 2000s],” Weatherford mentioned. “They’re a very giving, very thoughtful family. And I knew Mrs. Eaton a little bit. Obviously, when you hear of a situation like the one she was in, any chance you can get to help, you try to do it. I feel very blessed that people want me to come to Terre Haute to play in a celebrity basketball game.”
After Weatherford gets done with tonight’s basketball exhibition — in one piece, hopefully — he’ll resume training for what he hopes will be his sixth NFL season.
“This is the time of year to get stronger and more flexible,” explained Weatherford, who admits he hasn’t taken part in any informal workouts organized by NFL players. “It’s time to work on my fitness a little bit rather than kicking a lot of balls.”
When/if the lockout ends, Weatherford will be a free agent who can sign with the highest bidder, if that’s what he chooses to do. He didn’t rule out re-signing with the Jets, but he didn’t rule out going elsewhere either.
“It’s really difficult to tell,” he said. “I loved playing there [in New York]. Playing for [coach] Rex Ryan was great. But you don’t always get to go where you want to go. . . We’ll see where the wind blows me. I’m coming off a great season. Statistically, I’m in a really good spot right now. I’m excited about free agency.”
In 2010, Weatherford tied the NFL record for most punts inside the 20-yard line in a single season with 42, so he shouldn’t be lacking for suitors.
Also worth noting, Weatherford, his wife Laura and their two children have moved to San Diego. He plans to make another trip to Terre Haute for his second annual camp for Vigo County eighth- through 12-grade football players at North High School on July 16.
Then he anticipates waiting out the lockout until it finally ends, whenever that may be.
“Obviously, everybody wants to maximize the amount of money they’re making,” he said in assessing the dispute. “But I felt like the amount of money we were all making before the lockout was fair for both sides. If we don’t end up playing football [in 2011], everybody will lose, including the fans.”
Weatherford acknowledged that he has thought about what he’ll do for a living after his playing career ends — perhaps explore business opportunities — but he hoped that wouldn’t be necessary for another 10 years or so.
So if there is no football in September and October, what will he do to pass the time?
“Keep training, stay ready in case the season suddenly starts up and enjoy my family,” Weatherford replied.
David Hughes can be reached after 4 p.m. by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at email@example.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.