TERRE HAUTE —
Athletes and non-athletes alike don’t always automatically fall in love with their hometowns. Very often, people fall out of love with them. The desire to go somewhere is strong.
Terre Haute native Steve Weatherford has certainly gone places. After a successful career at Terre Haute North, he was the University of Illinois punter from 2002-05 and went on to play for five teams in the National Football League.
Weatherford’s journey culminated last February when his New York Giants won Super Bowl XLVI.
Given his station in life, and given the commitments his Super Bowl champion status has placed upon him, Weatherford could have been anywhere but Terre Haute this weekend, especially with the Giants starting training camp in Albany, N.Y., on July 26.
But Weatherford didn’t want to be anywhere else. He was front and center as he hosted his 3rd Annual Steve Weatherford Camp on a muggy Saturday at North.
“It’s my favorite weekend of the year … every year,” Weatherford said.
Weatherford was joined by former New York Jets teammate Marquice Cole — now of the New England Patriots — and several other guests. Among them were former Illinois quarterback Tim Brasic, Steve’s brother Scott Weatherford — a punter at Eastern Illinois who had several Panthers’ teammates with him — and some of Indiana State’s players.
The free camp — open to high school football players from the three Vigo County School Corporation high schools — was run by several local coaches, including Terre Haute North coach Chris Barrett and Terre Haute South coach Mark Raetz. Turnout was estimated between 150 and 170 football players.
Weatherford gave back to the Terre Haute community before he was a Super Bowl champion. But since he earned his Super Bowl ring on Feb. 5, he’s been as visible as ever, perhaps even more so.
Since then, he’s appeared in parades, he’s hosted a 5K run at Fairbanks Park, and he’s given money and time to local charitable causes.
Weatherford’s weekend was a snapshot of the time he gives to Terre Haute. He was invited to take part in Friday’s Tee Up For Tatas charity golf event at Hulman Links, so he did. Later Friday, he was invited to take a turn in the St. Benedict’s Community Festival dunk tank, so he did.
“In Steve’s case, he truly has a servant’s heart. He’s grown so much and in so many ways. Without prompting, he’s giving back to the community. He’s just that kind of person. He’s developed into a man we’d all like our sons to be like,” VCSC superintendent Danny Tanoos said.
For Weatherford to come back and participate in Terre Haute events requires him to have strong family support behind him. Steve’s father — Sam Weatherford — has worked with Tanoos and Mick Newport at VCSC to help organize events, including the football camp.
When asked why his son enjoys giving back to the community, he said it was a two-way street.
“I think it goes both ways. When the community is supportive and excited to have Steve come back, it makes it fun,” Sam Weatherford said. “At no point is it kind of an obligation for him. When you can give to people and tell how much they enjoy it, it makes it more fun to go that extra mile. I’m happy he makes that choice.”
Steve Weatherford’s charitable activities are often done under the auspices or with the help of VCSC. Weatherford’s relationship with Tanoos runs deep, so much that he gave Tanoos a replica Super Bowl ring. Sam Weatherford is the only other recipient of a replica ring.
“A lot of people want to leave Terre Haute and want to go somewhere else, but they always want to come back. I think it says a lot about Steve wanting to come back. He puts his heart, soul and financial soul into it. He truly has an appreciation for those who helped him along the way and he wants to give back,” Tanoos said.
Tanoos has fostered partnerships and friendships with other successful Terre Haute athletes in the last quarter-century — including Anthony and Ernie Thompson, among many others. Steve Weatherford said, in his case, it’s a simple matter of appreciation — that which he received as a student and that which he seeks to reciprocate.
“[Tanoos] has been pro-Weatherford since I was 14, before I was even on the varsity team,” Weatherford said. “He always took the time to ask about school, to ask about grades, to ask about my home life. It wasn’t because I was the greatest athlete in Terre Haute, because I wasn’t at that time. None of what has happened to me would’ve happened without that support.”
Weatherford’s camp also served as a reminder that the mission that athletics are supposed to accomplish can still happen and can still serve the greater good. During a week in which the Penn State child molestation case dominated the headlines, Weatherford’s camp provided a sharp contrast.
“It goes to show what Terre Haute is made of. The community wants to see successful people come back and give back and be positive role models. The community has made it easy for me to come back and be philanthropic,” Weatherford said.
After the camp concluded, Weatherford spoke to the campers and extolled the virtues of work ethic and taking the lessons of football and applying them to everyday life and life after football. Weatherford also invited Brasic to talk and he spoke of his conversion to Christianity and his passion for his religion.
“It’s important for me to teach these kids life skills,” said Weatherford, who will close on and move into a condominium in Hoboken, N.J., and attend his sister’s wedding before he reports to Giants camp.
“We’re giving up our time because we think the kids are important enough for us to spend our free time and to try and enlighten them in our academic and athletic journeys through life.”