Punters aren’t supposed to look like the New York Giants’ Steve Weatherford. They’re supposed to be scrawny ex-soccer players who stand in one place during games, huddled behind the bench in their oversize parkas, waiting for those few-and-far-between times when they’re called onto the field to do something requiring neither hitting nor running. Underneath their pads, punters aren’t supposed to be 6'2", 211 pounds at 5% body fat. Weatherford is, however, and says you can be, too, provided you’re willing to put in the time.
“It’s a combination of being blessed with good genetics and being disciplined,” Weatherford says. “A lot of guys might wake up one morning with a sore back and take the day off . I never do.”
Currently in his sixth NFL season, Weatherford, who is among the league’s most accurate punters, unseated incumbent Matt Dodge in training camp, when most observers had expected Dodge to hang on to his Giants starting spot. To the University of Illinois graduate and Crown Point, IN, native, his football success is attributable to a training and nutrition game plan forged during his rookie season with the New Orleans Saints in 2006.
Weatherford claims punting a football is similar to driving a golf ball—a scenario where everything needs to work in concert, the same way, every time out. If one little thing is off—a hamstring is pulled or the hips are tight—a punter’s rhythm can be completely thrown off. The idea is to be as explosive as possible when it’s time to punt, six to eight plays per game, on average, and to ensure physical consistency. “You can’t do this perfectly every week,” he says, “but you want to feel exactly the same way every single Sunday. You want to build that explosiveness in the off-season, then train to maintain it so everything is the same during games.” Since his entire year comes down to those six to eight bursts of perfectly coordinated explosiveness—as opposed to position players, who need significantly more stamina—Weatherford’s off-season training resembles an Olympic high jumper’s regimen more than it does a linebacker’s or a running back’s. The key, he says, is the yearly regimentation he learned from his mentor, veteran placekicker John Carney—who spent 23 seasons in the NFL.
“It’s a long season,” he says. “You’ve got four preseason games and 16 regular-season games, and if you get into the postseason, you could be playing 24 football games in five months. You get tired, the season grinds on you, and your knees, back, and hips start to hurt. You have to taper off at some point and maintain the work you did in the off -season to keep consistent.” For this veteran punter, looking more like a DB or safety comes down to how much discipline you’re willing to exercise. “If my knees are sore, and I don’t feel like I can run,” he says, “I’ll find something I can do, like sprints on the bike or swimming. The difference between looking this way and not is that I have that discipline, and I won’t ever let myself cheat myself.”