TERRE HAUTE —
If they were quiet, several dozen youngsters were promised Friday, they could pass around a real Super Bowl ring after its owner was finished speaking to them.
The response was near silence, and before long Steve Weatherford’s treasured jewelry was circulating throughout the cafeteria at Terre Haute North High School.
It’s hard to imagine, however, what kind of din would have prompted Weatherford to leave the ring on his finger, because he could relate to the most impish of his listeners.
“ADHD, OCD, high-energy … I was always mischievous and I found it hard to sit still,” Weatherford recalled Friday. “But I used that to my advantage [eventually]. I never let anyone outwork me.”
No one has put fidgets and nervous energy to better use than the punter for the New York Giants and his home city is much the better for it, Friday being just one example.
The children were from “Too Fit to Sit Week” at the Vigo County YMCA, and they dropped in for lunch at the annual Steve Weatherford Football Camp (brought in a bus driven by Lisa Weatherford, Steve’s mother, who was put in charge of making sure the ring got back to its owner).
Weatherford himself was available to talk to them while the 100 participants in the free camp were in another part of the school being instructed about the importance of academics to their futures; the punter’s message to his wide-eyed younger audience was similar to what the older campers were hearing.
“Being fit and getting good grades,” were important, Weatherford stressed to them shortly before resuming outdoor football drills with his staff of volunteers that included 16 coaches with college experience, two current National Football League players, six retired NFL players and a group of Vigo County School Corporation personnel led by superintendent Danny Tanoos.
“It’s great to be back home,” a smiling Weatherford told the Tribune-Star during a short break in his active day.
Friday was the fourth annual edition of the camp and, despite the credentials of its instructors, football is only a part of its benefits.
“We try to show the kids life skills,” Weatherford explained, “ways they can overcome adversity and become positive role models and leaders … and how important it is to get a good education.”
His own math skills were becoming necessary, he said, in his own talks to the football campers. “It’s been 12 or 13 years since I was in their shoes. Time flies.”
As he prepares for his eighth professional football season, Weatherford finds it ironic, and a little humbling, that he’s becoming one of the leaders — an elder statesman, perhaps — with the Giants.
“In my heart, I still feel like a kid,” he said, “and athletically I feel I’m at my best right now … but believe me, every day you get in the National Football League is a blessing, and I appreciate every one I have.”
The feeling-like-a-kid aspect of Weatherford no doubt led to some fun being had somewhere in town later Friday, although he cautioned that “being married with three kids kind of slows down your decision process.”
Remember, however, that there were two active NFL players involved in Friday’s camp. That means that Marquice Cole — who certainly must be an adopted Hautean by now — was there to provide perspective.
“He’s still a goofball,” said Cole, one of Weatherford’s best friends since both were on the New York Jets — but quickly added that there was more to his friend than that.
Cole, for example, has been part of all four Weatherford camps — flying to this one directly from the New England Patriots mini-camp before even going home to his family — and also came to Terre Haute with Weatherford for a benefit basketball game two years ago.
“My family and his family [are close]. His son and my son are best friends,” Cole said. “He’s a kind-hearted guy who would do anything to help out.”
In addition to projects in his hometown, Weatherford was recently named the New York Giants’ Man of the Year, receiving the Wellington Mara Award for his philanthropy in the New York area, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook (Conn.) shootings.
Although the storm happened during the Giants’ season, Weatherford visited the Jersey shore on his first available day off, bringing box lunches to the workers there. During the holiday season, he took 40 children from the shore shopping, giving them $200 each, then — after they were finished buying for themselves — added $200 for each child to shop for his or her family.
The Sandy Hook tragedy wasn’t a financial one, Weatherford pointed out, but he arranged a sports clinic for the children in town, then later took 45 of them to a New York Yankees game.
If the outgoing Weatherford is arguably the best punter in the NFL, he’s almost certainly the best-known punter thanks to deeds like that.
It’s a perfect combination, his friend said.
“The bigger the platform for him, the more people recognize what kind of guy he is,” Cole concluded.