*Six-year NFL veteran Steve Weatherford just completed his first season as the Giants punter. He entered the league with the New Orleans Saints in 2006. Weatherford stayed with the Saints until midway through the 2008 season. He also played for Kansas City and Jacksonville that year. In 2009, Weatherford joined the Jets and played with them for two seasons before signing with the Giants. In 2010, he tied an NFL record by placing 42 punts inside the 20-yard line. Weatherford, who will turn 30 on Dec. 17, grew up in Indiana and Louisiana. He was an All-Big Ten punter at the University of Illinois.
*Q: How did you wind up growing up in two states?Weatherford: "I was actually born in Indiana, but I grew up in Baton Rouge, La. I lived in Baton Rouge from when I was two until I was 14 and I actually grew up with Michael Clayton, the wide receiver. He has been one of my friends for a long time. We went to middle school together. Then I moved to Indiana and oddly enough once I got there, I played summer basketball with Mathias (Kiwanuka) for two summers, so I knew him when I came here. So it's been kind of a - whenever I got here I was like, 'Man, I already have two childhood friends on the team.' So it was kind of exciting for me."
Q: Why did you move?Weatherford: "My parents are from Indiana and I have an older brother, so it's just my parents, my older brother and I. And my dad just got a better job down in Baton Rouge. The whole time he was there he was trying to get transferred back to Indiana, because that's where all of our family is."
Q: It took him 12 years? What does your dad do?Weatherford: "He works for a packaging division that makes the plastic bags like GAP bags. They make the plastic that wraps around a 24 pack bottle of water, so it's probably urethane or something like that."
Q: Did you like Louisiana?Weatherford: "I loved it. I actually played for the Saints my first three years in the NFL. It was fun. I got to see all my friends that I got to grow up with and it was a comfortable surrounding for me, because it's something I grew up with, the food, obviously, is fantastic down there. The culture is a lot different than anywhere else in America. For other people coming from other teams or college, they thought it was weird, but for me it was kind of regular."
Q: Did you start playing sports when you were a youngster in Baton Rouge?Weatherford: "Yes, my family is very athletically oriented. On my mother's side, I think out of 30 grandkids about there are probably 21 of us that played college sports. Whether it was Division III, or Division II or Division I, almost all of them played college sports, so it's something that is important to our family."
Q: What did you play as a kid? Did you have a favorite?Weatherford: "I love basketball, I just didn't grow to be 6-6, but I love basketball. When you're born in Indiana, that's the biggest sport there and it was something that I always loved. But I played four sports in high school, I was pretty well-rounded. I played basketball, soccer, football and track. I would say basketball is my favorite, but I just like being active."
Q: Where you a good student? Did you like school?Weatherford: "I don't know if you noticed, but I got a touch of the ADD. So it was hard for me. I got good grades, I got B's and stuff, but it was hard for me to sit still. I am just an active guy, I just like to be active. I did okay in school, but the whole time I am sitting in class I am watching the clock waiting to get out so I can go do something. So I did fine in school, but it was hard for me to sit still, for sure."
Q: You moved back to Indiana when you were 14, so just in time for high school. Was that tough, since it's an awkward age?Weatherford: "It is, because you form a lot of your best friends in middle school and in high school and so you go from seventh grade in Louisiana to eighth grade in Indiana and a lot of the cliques were already formed. But sports were really something that plugged me in, because you play on a bunch of different teams you are going to have buddies based on your affiliation in that sport. It was easier for me to make friends than I think it was for my older brother, because he was 16 or 17 and he only played soccer. I played a bunch of sports and I am a little bit more outgoing then he is. I am not shy to go up and introduce myself to somebody."
Q: If you played four sports in high school, then two of them must have overlapped.Weatherford: "Soccer and football were both in the fall and it was a situation where I would go to football practice if I had time. I was a soccer player, but I would go to football practice for the first 15 minutes, kick field goals, punt a few balls and then it was, 'See you later, I am going to practice.' It was a good relationship the soccer coach had with the football coach, allowing me to pretty much miss all of practice and go to soccer. Football games were on Fridays and soccer games were on Tuesdays and Saturdays. So there was never any conflict. I never had to choose which game I was going to go to. So it worked out well."
Q: You were both a kicker and a punter? Did you kick 50-yard field goals in high school once?Weatherford: "I did, I had about three field goals over 50. I think I was playing maybe my third football game ever and I think I had a 49-yarder to win the game or something. Kicking field goals was just something that came naturally to me, because it is very similar to kicking a soccer ball. Punting, and I think its unanimous with everybody, punting is a little bit more difficult, because you have to drop the ball to yourself, the ball's not just sitting there still. So punting is a little bit more of an acquired skill then kicking field goals was for me."
Q: What track events did you compete in?Weatherford: I was a high jumper and a hurdler. I was pretty good at all the events, but I wasn't world champion at any of them. So if we ran against a team that had a bunch of good 400 runners, they would put me in there because I could compete with them. They kind of sprinkled me around into different events based on where I could score points for the team. Then when I went to college I had the crazy idea that, 'Hey, I want to run track in college,' so I went up to the coach and said, 'Coach, I would love to run track for you.' He said, 'Okay, what are your times, how high do you high jump?' I said, 6-8, 6-10, I run a 13.8 in the hurdles' and he said, 'Those are all pretty good, but I don't think you're going to ever win a conference title or anything like that.' I said, 'Well, let me come out and practice with the team for a few days and tell me what you think.' So I went out and he put me with the hurdlers and I did pretty well, then he put me with the high jumpers and I did pretty well, then the long jumpers and I did pretty well and I was pretty good at everything. He's said, 'You know, what you're a decathlete,' and I was like, 'What is that?' But that is 10 events and it worked out really well for me because I was pretty good at everything and I wasn't bad at anything and I wasn't great at anything and that is the perfect concoction for the decathlete."
Q: Were you always going to go to college for football or did you think about going for soccer?Weatherford: "I have no clue. Going into my senior year, the only big Division I schools that had offered me scholarships were for football. I had a lot of schools that were looking at me for basketball and track and for soccer, but they were smaller schools they were Division I-A, Division I-AA schools. I talked to me dad and he said, 'What do you love?' I said, 'I love basketball, but I am not that good,' so we kind of made an educated guess of what we thought would bring me farther. Never did I think I was going to go to the NFL and play for as long as I have. I worked really hard and I have been very blessed, so it has just worked out very well for me."
Q: Why did you choose Illinois?Weatherford: "It was really close to home, an hour and half from my house, and I am from rural Indiana and it still had a country feel to me. I went and visited some other schools and it was just more of a big city feel. And I thought there was a good chance that I could play early. I didn't want to sit on the bench for two or three years and then play for two years. I thought there was a chance for me to compete for the starting position immediately, so that is why I chose Illinois."
Q: Did you go there thinking you were going to kick and punt?Weatherford: "No, they gave me a scholarship as a kicker and I got there and we had four kickers and they were juniors and seniors and they were pretty good. I was stronger than them, but they were more polished in the craft. It was the second day of training camp and we had a bunch of kickers and we had one punter and the punter was getting tired, so I went over to punt some balls just to help him out. I was hitting the ball really well, so the coach said 'Okay, you're not a kicker anymore, you're our punter.' I also kicked off and kicked field goals in college as well, but I always kicked off and I kicked field goals anything over 50 yards. I had a strong leg, but I didn't kick enough to be accurate."
Q: Who was the coach at Illinois at the time?Weatherford: "Ron Turner."
Q: You made all Big-10 as a junior. You had a successful career there. Do you look back at Illinois as a good time in your life?Weatherford: "Oh it was great, it was the best. Educationally, it was a fantastic institution. I had a lot of fun there, I was able to play two sports, compete, and do well in both of those. I met my wife (Laura) there, so there are a lot of positives and not too many negatives."
Q: You hold school punting and decathlon records.Weatherford: "I ran the decathlon, and then I set a bunch of records for punting. A lot of positives came out of my decision to go there, so I don't regret it at all. We didn't get to win a lot of games, but I sure got to punt a lot."
Q: When did you think or did someone tell you that you might be able to play in the NFL?Weatherford: "After my junior year when I was honorable mention All-America and I started to look at my averages in comparison to guys in the NFL. Granted, it is totally different when I get here, because when I was in college I did directional punts and I wasn't worried about hang time or net punting and now those are a big emphasis for me. But just watching NFL punters punt and looking at myself I was like, 'They aren't that much better than me. If I work hard the next two years maybe I can make it.' So it was after my junior year when I thought there was a legitimate chance that I could be a professional punter."
Q: How many teams contacted you after the 2006 draft?Weatherford: "Probably six."
Q: Did New Orleans give you the best offer, or did you want to go back to Louisiana?Weatherford: New Orleans' special teams coach was the coach that I had for four years in college, Greg McMahon. I didn't think going there that I had a great chance of making the team, but I knew that he would give me a fair shot to get a lot of kicks in preseason and at least get some good film together. It just so happened I went in there the guy I was competing with was an 11 year pro, a Pro Bowler, Mitch Berger. He got injured the first day of camp and I was lights out in camp, punted very well and the rest is history. We went to the NFC Championship Game that season."
Q: You were there for two years and then you played for three teams in 2008. Was that a tough year for you?Weatherford: "It really was. I played in New Orleans in 2006, 2007, I had good years and then 2008 I wasn't punting bad, but I was up and down - I would have one game where I wouldn't be that good and then have one game where I would be good. Punter and kickers are like home run hitters, we will get in slumps and there were a couple games where I felt like I was in a slump. Then I got released from New Orleans, got claimed off of waivers, went to Kansas City, played there for two games and I knew that was only going to be a two-game gig because their guy (Dustin Colquitt) was injured. As soon as he was healthy I knew I was on my way out the door. Then I went to Jacksonville and punted well there the rest of the year. I went to New York, played for the Jets for two years and enjoyed my time there, but hitting free agency this last year I didn't really feel that there was any future there for me. I don't feel they really commit to their specialists, I think they just recycle guys. I had been on four teams in five years and I was ready for some stability. I thought coming here, if I am able to give Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese what they want, a stabl,e consistent directional punter, I am open to playing here for a long time."
Q: You played in the Dome, you played in Jacksonville, is it different kicking in East Rutherford?Weatherford: "In comparison to Florham Park (where the Jets' facility is located) there is really no difference, essentially the same wind, same weather."
Q: What about a late December game?Weatherford: "It makes it difficult. It is frustrating sometimes, because right now as a punt team we are ranked somewhere around 10th, which I am not particularly thrilled about, but I am not embarrassed about it at all. Tenth is solid; I am better than 2/3 of the guys in the NFL, but as December comes and I am punting in 15-degree weather and then you flip on the night game and you see guys punting in the Dome, it's frustrating, because they are hitting 55-yard punts and I am punting into a 30 mile-per-hour wind. It's frustrating and sometimes it doesn't feel like it's fair, but at the same time a win is a win. If I can punt better than the other punter I win the field position battle and that's really what it is about. You can get wrapped up in statistics, but it's not really something that is important to me."
Q: A couple of years ago you missed a playoff game with a heart issue. What happened, exactly, and is it something you still must monitor?Weatherford: "No, it is fixed now. It was a weird thing, because I had surgery for it when I was 20 years old in college and I thought it fixed it. And it did fix it for seven years and then five minutes before the Cincinnati playoff game my heart went from probably 100 beats (a minute) to well over 200 and it stayed there for three hours.
Q: That had to be scary.Weatherford: "It was exhausting. As soon as my heart finally came back to a normal rhythm, I felt like I just ran a marathon because my heart was beating as if it was running a marathon. So it was scary because my wife knew, watching on TV, she knew there was no way that I am not going to play the game, that they are going to have to saw my leg off. I could have a pulled groin, a pulled hamstring and a headache and I am still going to play, because there is no back up. Your team is depending on you and it was frustrating for me. I said, 'Listen doctor, I know my heart is beating at 215 beats per minute, but I will walk onto the field, I will punt the ball and I will walk off, I won't do anything else,' and they just wouldn't let me go. It was frustrating, because I felt like I was letting my team down. But luckily enough we won the game and Jay Feely got us through the game punting and we didn't have to punt a lot, so it was good.
Q: Do you have to take anything for that?Weatherford: "No, I ended up playing the rest of the playoffs that year. We played two more games, one in San Diego and one in Indianapolis and they just put me on beta blockers, which made me like a zombie because my heart rate wouldn't go up at all. After the playoffs were over I had a heart surgery, which is when they went in through a vein in my groin into my heart and cauterized the overactive blood vessel and that was it."
Q: You had a big spread in Men's Fitness magazine. Have you always been a workout warrior?Weatherford: "Yes, it is something that - playing so many sports as a kid and then playing sports in college - I think it should be important for all the guys. But I think I take it to another level. I am kind of obsessive compulsive about it, but it is something I love. It is kind of a healthy addiction for me. I can't let a day go by where I don't get a physical activity in, because it just makes me feel good. It has served me well up into this point in my career with the exception of that heart thing. I have been very healthy and very fortunate, but I think the reason the doctors told me I have acquired this heart episode is the only time that they ever see that type of, it's called a-fib, when they see it in somebody as young as me, the common denominator is, people who have that in their 20's or 30's or people who were overly active as a child. I ran ultra competitive track when I was eight, all the way through the rest of my life and what happens is my brain tells my heart that it is more developed then it is, because my heart is so efficient and so my brain tells my heart to stop growing because it is already so efficient and so that just screwed up the electrical system in my heart, because my brain thought that my heart was full grown when I was 12 and obviously I needed to grow for another eight years. So it was pretty strange."
Q: You majored in Kinesiology?Weatherford: "Yeah, it's like pre-medicine. I wanted to be a chiropractor, but obviously that didn't work out for me. It is still something that is very interesting to me, but thinking about going back to school after playing football for as long as I have, that would be really difficult for me."
Q: Did you get your degree?Weatherford: "I did."
Q: You have two children…Weatherford: Two kids, Ace and Carney. Ace turned four on November 20 and Carney turned two on the 23rd.
Q: Indiana, Louisiana, Indiana, now two years in the metropolitan area - do you like it here?Weatherford: "I love it here. When I went into free agency, this was my number one choice. I wanted to go back to New York, whether it was for the Jets or for the Giants. I wanted to be a Giant. I didn't particularly want to be a Jet just for the simple fact that I explained to you earlier, that they weren't able to make a commitment to me and I want some stability for myself and for my family. John Carney (the Giants' kicker in 2008) is my best friend, which is why I named my daughter Carney. I lived in San Diego and trained with him every day of the offseason, so he is kind of a mentor/best friend to me. He kind of advises me on all my important decisions. He said, 'Listen, I played on several teams and the New York Giants is by far the best franchise I ever played for.' So hearing that from him, I take whatever he says to the bank, I take it very seriously when he tells me something. So getting that information from him and obviously knowing that I would be playing in the same stadium I had for the last two years, I felt very comfortable here. I play well at home. I felt like we had a good bargaining chip coming to the Giants, because we could say, 'This is what I was able to do for the Jets in the same stadium that you guys were in. I would love to do it for you, so let's work something out.' So it worked out well and I've enjoyed every minute of being here so far."