Weatherford Impressed with UI Improvements

Every year for the Orange and Blue Spring Game, Illinois brings back two honorary coaches. Former Illinois punter Steve Weatherford was one of the two invited this year. He talks about his return to Champaign-Urbana as well as his pro career and offseason plans.

A lot has changed since Steve Weatherford wore the Orange and Blue at Illinois, but the experience of being back at his alma mater is something that will never change for him.

"It's surreal. Everything has changed so much. Coach (Ron) Zook is doing a great job getting these guys ready for the 2011 season. But it looks great. The Stadium looks great, team looks great, everybody looks healthy and strong, so I'm excited to be back."

The facilities have been improved also. Weatherford graduated before Illinois performed the "Renaissance" project at Memorial Stadium. He likes the changes.

"The weight room is unbelievable. Everything about the city. Obviously, the faces on the team are different. So much has changed. Looking around, I almost feel like I'm a recruit again since everything has changed so much. But it's cool."

Weatherford put together four excellent years of punting at Illinois, and he was able to parlay that into a professional career. Many players get to the NFL, but only those that continue to work hard and improve stay around.

"I guess I'm a guy that's never satisfied, but that's probably why I am where I am right now. I've never been 100 percent satisfied with anything I've done because I'm a perfectionist. As far as my body of work, I'm proud of what I've done so far, but I'm always wanting more."

The hard work paid off for Weatherford, who enjoyed a great season this past year with the New York Jets. Only a few years removed from college, Weatherford looks forward to the rest of his career.

"Last season was the best year of my career, but I'm looking forward to next season to build on that. I'm just excited to get a chance to play in the National Football League. I can't believe it's already been 6 years."

At the time of the spring game, the NFL lockout was still in effect. For now, the lockout has been put on hold, but it's still something that is in the back of each player's mind. Weatherford is confident things will be cleared up before too long.

"I'm fairly confident that it's going to get figured out soon. At the same time, I'm mentally and financially preparing myself for a lockout. I don't think it's going to occur though, so I'm just staying in shape right now."

Weatherford has been preparing as he always would near his San Diego home. Whether there is a lockout or not, he wants to be ready.

"I've just been training. Doing what I do most off-seasons: lifting, running, and kicking. Staying ready. I've been in San Diego the entire time. I started training out there about 5 years ago, and I call it home now."

Weatherford has made stops with the New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and most recently New York Jets. Will he end up in familiar territory again, or will he find a new city to call home?

"I'll be interested to see what team I'm with. I'll be hitting free agency this offseason."

Right now, the indication is that he would most likely re-sign with the Jets, but the NFL is quite unpredictable.

When asked at halftime to pick a winner for the Spring Game, Weatherford gave a sure-fire answer.

"I think the Illini are going to take this one."

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