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Ex-Jet punter Weatherford thriving with Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Steve Weatherford still has Christmas lights around his locker and a holiday-themed welcome mat placed in front.

It's an eye-catching setup that greets you upon entering the New York Giants' locker room. Not nearly as gaudy is the note taped inside his locker that has motivated him all season. It's a headline from a story in September in which Mike Westhoff, his former special teams coach, said Weatherford "wasn't good enough" to punt anymore for the Jets.

"Yeah," Weatherford said with a laugh Thursday. "It's just a little fuel for my fire. Know what I mean?"

Well, the Giants certainly do. In his first season with them, Weatherford has been a solid addition with one terrific punt after another.

"I enjoy coming to work," he said. "People perform well when they're having fun. This is an environment where I'm enjoying it, having fun and able to relax."

In that case, Weatherford must have been having a blast last in the Giants' 24-2 win over Atlanta on Sunday, when he averaged 45.8 yards on four punts, with two going out of bounds at the Falcons 21 and one going out at the Falcons 10. The other punt was a 54-yard touchback late in the first half, keeping Eric Weems from doing any damage.

With four kicks and no returns, it was the equivalent of a punting shutout. And it made coach Tom Coughlin and special teams coordinator Tom Quinn pretty pleased.

"He was outstanding last week," Coughlin said. "The fact that there was no punt return yardage, although we would like to have the touchback go out of bounds at the 3, the three balls that he did kick out of bounds were well placed. They were good directional punts and helped us tremendously because of the nature of the returner."

Weatherford, whose 45.7 punting average tied him for fourth in the NFC during the regular season, will be counted on to have another big performance Sunday when the Giants take on the Green Bay Packers and their talented returner, Randall Cobb. The rookie averaged 11.3 yards per punt return, and had an 80-yarder for a touchdown against Minnesota in November.

"This guy is very dangerous," Quinn said. "Obviously, the numbers that he has and the run skills, he is electric with the ball."

But the Giants have plenty of confidence Weatherford can be a big equalizer.

"I'm a lot more confident this year," Weatherford said. "I'm not afraid to make a mistake. If you go out there trying to make a play instead of trying not to screw up, you're going to be a whole lot more successful. Tom Coughlin and Tom Quinn have treated me like gold since I've been here. I've really, really enjoyed being a Giant, and I've been able to execute for them."

The 29-year-old Weatherford is in his sixth NFL season, and hopes to have found a home after spending time with New Orleans, Jacksonville, Kansas City and the Jets. He set an NFL record with 42 punts inside the 20-yard line for the Jets, but New York opted to not re-sign him in the offseason. Weatherford enjoyed playing for Rex Ryan, but had a sometimes-rocky relationship with Westhoff.

He has no hard feelings, though, about his former coach or team. After all, the Jets are in turmoil, while Weatherford is still punting in the playoffs.

"The decision that was made benefited me," Weatherford said. "I enjoyed my time there. Rex was great. It was a decision made that I thought, for my career, this was the place I'd rather be."

Weatherford talked with Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes and long snapper Zak DeOssie before signing with the crosstown-rival Giants.

"They were saying, `Oh, man, you'll love it here. Tom Quinn's the greatest, a real players' guy,"' Weatherford said. "That was very attractive for me. Having a great relationship with your position coach was very important to me."

And he fit right in with his Giants teammates.

"He's a fun guy, man," said Tynes, whose locker also is still decorated, as is DeOssie's. "He was here maybe a day and he already had a boom box over there, so I was thinking some people might think bad of that. But, we've taken him in, we love him and he's a great athlete"

Weatherford is an energetic presence, a guy who has several tattoos, loves heavy metal music and bounces around the locker room like a little kid. He also has quirks. Such as the pink argyle socks he slipped on after practice.

"You love `em, man," he said. "That's swag!"

Oh, and he's also a workout maniac who appeared in a recent issue of Men's Fitness magazine and described as "The NFL's Fittest Kicker." And, that's no exaggeration.

"Obviously, everybody looks at his muscles," Tynes said, laughing. "It's got to be somewhat genetic because he just can't be that ripped. He's got good family genes. But, nah, he works at it. He's in the weight room a lot."

Besides the added confidence Weatherford gained when he joined the Giants, he attributes his solid season to what he did with his body during the lockout. He trained with former NFL kicker John Carney, his best friend, and developed a routine that made him stronger than ever.

"I had seven months straight with no interruptions or vacations just to work out," he said. "We got together and John was able to come up with a really good schedule as far as developing strength, flexibility and kind peaking at the time I wanted to peak. So right now, in relation to last year, I just feel a lot stronger, more well-rested."

And it has certainly shown with his performance. He's scheduled to be a free agent again, but would like to return to the Giants next season.

"For me, I wanted a home and I knew that if I was able to play well here, they like to lock their guys in," Weatherford said, "so it's definitely a possibility."

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