Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
“Weatherford punts well for central Illinois college” is an example of a frequent newspaper headline around eight years ago when Terre Haute North grad Steve Weatherford was booming long punts for the Illinois Fighting Illini.
That headline can now be recycled for another member of the Weatherford family, as Scott Weatherford won a preseason punting battle at Eastern Illinois similar to his brother’s annual NFL career competitions and has also emerged as one of the nation’s top collegiate punters.
Weatherford is averaging 40.4 yards per punt to rank 41st in the nation in punting covering all levels of competition. He has pinned seven out of 19 punts inside the 20-yard line, and has two punts over 50 yards with a best of 60.
As a team, EIU is allowing just over seven yards per punt return to rank 85th in the FCS in net punting.
Last month, Weatherford was named the Ohio Valley Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after averaging 44.8 yards per punt for the Panthers on six punt attempts in a 31-20 loss to Tennessee Tech.
Numerous attempts to contact Weatherford and the Eastern Illinois coaching staff were unsuccessful, but Scott Weatherford’s biggest fan has no shortage of opinions.
“I’m so proud of my brother,” said Steve Weatherford, who is in his sixth NFL season overall and first as the punter for the New York Giants. “His hard work and perseverance are only just starting to pay off for him. We are both blessed with God-given athletic ability, and he has chosen to work hard in the offseason to develop as a man, athlete, and punter.”
Steve Weatherford has spent a lot of time passing along the knowledge he has learned throughout his collegiate career and five NFL stops.
“During spring break this year, he chose to come to San Diego [my offseason home] to train with me instead of join his teammates in Panama City partying,” Steve said. “Scott spent 10 days in San Diego with me, running, lifting, punting. It’s choices like that that show me his maturity as a man and his dedication as an athlete.
“He had one goal these past eight months, and that was to be the starting punter for the Eastern Illinois Panthers,” Steve added. “He has achieved that, and now I believe he will set his goals even higher. All-Conference, All American ……….. who knows?”
The Weatherfords also connected for kicking and lifting sessions in Terre Haute this summer during “Camp Weatherford,” a free clinic at Terre Haute North. They also met in Champaign prior to the start of their respective training camps this summer.
Scott redshirted his first season at EIU and spent last year as a backup, and found himself in a tough battle for the punting job this year.
“I feel so blessed that both of us were able to come out successfully,” Steve said. “I was able to impart my knowledge of techniques of punting, the specific routine I use during the season to maintain strength and flexibility, and a lot of other things.”
Steve sees a lot of himself in his younger “bro.”
“Scott is very similar to me in so many ways it’s scary,” he said. “His athleticism is definitely his edge against other punters. He is a very explosive athlete at the point of impact and that’s what has taken this far in his career.
“Scott worked hard this offseason to corral that strength and explosion into consistency. He is a great athlete, especially for a punter.”
Scott is the third Weatherford sibling to succeed in college athletics, as sister Carol was a standout volleyball player at Anderson University and now teaches kindergarten in Michigan.
Scott has two more years of college football left, and Steve sees potential for there to possibly be another Weatherford kicking on Sundays.
“Scott is light years ahead of where I was at that age,” Steve said. “His statistics speak for themselves. I couldn’t be more proud to be his brother. The only people more proud are our parents [Sam and Lisa], and I guess we should thank them for the Alpha genetics.
“I believe his future is as bright as he chooses to make it. The sky is the limit for someone like Scott.”
• King fitting in well — Former Rockville football standout Matt King has helped Siena Heights (Mich.) to a 2-1 start in its first football season.
He began his career at Indiana State but transferred to the NAIA school in Adrian, Mich., to play both football and baseball. King began his baseball career last spring, and has performed well this fall on the gridiron.
He has completed 63 percent of his passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winner last month in a comeback win over Division II Kentucky Wesleyan.
“If you look at what we’ve done on the field, Matthew has really learned how to take care of the football,” Siena quarterbacks coach Stan Parrish told the Adrian Daily Telegram. “His decision-making is good and is getting better every night in practice.”
King was moved to wide receiver at ISU, and is glad to be back behind center again.
“The quarterback is the leader and the general on the field, and that’s where I like to be,” King said. “It feels great to be back out there.
“It’s a great community here,” King said. “I like the athletics a lot, and the school is good, as well. I’m happy to be here.”
Siena Coach Jim Lyall likes King’s competitive nature.
“Matt enjoys competing,” Lyall said. “You can tell he really enjoys being in the middle of the fray. That’s the most impressive thing about him.
“He’s shown the ability to run and pass, and we like that with the kind of spread offense we run,” Lyall said. “He’s not afraid to tuck it and run, and he makes good reads on our zone option. So far, he’s made good decisions based on what the defense has given him.”
• Hughes on stand-by — Terre Haute North senior punter A.J. Hughes will undoubtedly be the third Terre Haute North punter in the last decade to continue kicking in college, but the question still remains “where?”
Hughes broke onto the national high school football scene last summer at the Kohl’s National Scholarship Camp.
ESPN recruiting analyst Jamie Kohl had high praise for Hughes — a left-footed punter — on espn.com, saying that Hughes and one other punter from Nebraska “separated themselves from the rest of the group at camp. They consistently hit punts that traveled over 45 yards and had over 4.4 seconds of hang time. They are news guys to the college recruiting scene, but they should turn a lot of heads in the weeks and months to come.”
Hughes has not yet made a commitment, and realizes the nature of his position will make the finalization of any deal to be a few months off.
“It's a long and on-going process,” he said. “Right now it's really quiet for me, and I expect to be getting a lot of news later [from December through early February] as it gets closer to signing day.
“Punters and kickers don't get picked up to the last possible second, because schools are more interested in that 6-5, 230-pound tight end. A lot of schools are looking.”
Hughes has visited Ball State, Indiana and Purdue so far, and is a Weatherford-type talent some schools will wish they hadn’t overlooked.
Joey Bennett is a former Tribune-Star sports reporter and copy editor who now teaches at Northview High School in Brazil. He can be reached at email@example.com.