Steve Weatherford: Navigating life as a veteran NFL free agent

Former New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford is staying in great physical shape while waiting out the veteran free agent cycle.
Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

By Steve Weatherford

Forget the stereotypes. Training to be a punter in the NFL is very difficult and requires a ton of time and effort to succeed at the highest level. It's an incredibly difficult job to do at the NFL level due to the amount of stress and pressure that comes with having to perform at your very best every single Sunday. One bad punt could be the difference in your team winning or losing. That kind of pressure and responsibility is something you can either deal with or you can't. 

Do. Or do not. There is no “try.”

It takes years of both physical and mental preparation to get to the level that I was fortunately able to perform at for ten NFL seasons. The nature of trying to punt a football to a precise spot on the field while 250 pound men are trying to tackle you, is a skill that requires constant preparation throughout the year in order to keep one's punting skills sharp.

Which is why becoming a veteran free agent at this particular position can be particularly challenging without the right attention to detail. 

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Recently becoming a free agent, I've been asked by people how I train and how I practice my craft while currently not on a NFL roster. I spend about half of every single day training and keeping myself prepared to perform to the best of my abilities. 

To relent is to fall behind.  

Physically speaking, my workouts remain as intense as ever. I alternate throughout the week between upper and lower body workouts that are high intensity, as well as including cardio workouts in my daily fitness regimen. In fairness, this has more to do with my obsession with being physically fit, than having to do with punting. I do customize my workouts, however, so that they not only benefit my physical conditioning, but my workouts are also designed to benefit my ability to punt the football.

This means doing exercises like calf raises, walking lunges, leg extensions, and hamstring curls in order to make sure that my leg strength remains at peak condition. I also am constantly stretching in order to maintain the flexibility that is required when punting a football.

Being in shape is great and definitely plays a role in one's ability to punt, however no amount of weights or fitness training could ever make up for the actual practice of catching a football with both hands and punting the football 50 yards downfield. For me personally, this can be somewhat difficult because this type of training requires other people to participate in order to simulate game conditions. Fortunately for myself, I have a great group of friends and trainers who have made themselves available to myself, so that I can still practice my craft.

What this means is that I will have one friend who will snap the ball to me as if they were a long snapper, while one or two others friends will wait two seconds and then try to block my punt. I practice punting for distance, as well as punting for accuracy so that I am prepared for different game scenarios.

Obviously, there are no opulent NFL facilities for me to train in during this transition stage in my career. Over the last couple of weeks I have been doing this at a local high school in my town so that I am prepared should I find myself on a NFL field in the near future.

Working out on high school fields to stay sharp is far from life in NFL football facilities for veteran free agents.

As I mentioned before, my fitness training and punting only takes up about half of time currently. While a member of the New York Giants, I was somewhat stretched a little thin between training, practice and film study, running my World Champion charitable organization, and being a loving husband to my wife Laura and father of four beautiful children. While I don't regret being involved in so many different avenues of life and I am really appreciative to have experienced so much during my time in New York, I must admit having a little break and being able to take a step back and really enjoy my wife and kids has truly been a blessing.

You don't realize it when you are in the middle of your career and trying to provide for your family, but a lot of the little things that most parents get to enjoy while raising their kids, you don't get to enjoy as much when you're in the NFL.

For example, I recently had the opportunity to take my children to their first day of school for the first time in their lives. I can't even begin to describe how special a moment that was for me and how much I really appreciated getting to have that moment with my kids. Just little things like that and basic joys like watching the news with my wife in the morning, are things that I am experiencing for the first time in a long time.  It's easy to get floored by the simplest things you missed when the rush of NFL life is all around you.

I am keeping busy and looking forward to whatever the next chapter of my life will be, but I know that I will continue to put the same intensity and passion that I put into my professional athletic career, into my family and whatever career aspirations I set my eyes on next.

Until I know what that is, I do my best to enjoy the little things and manage the uncertainty. That's all a veteran NFL free agent can do. 

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