Last Weatherford may be best yet

When the 2010 high school football season starts at Land O' Lakes (Fla.) there will be a Weatherford under center for the 11th consecutive year. And by many accounts, the best has been saved for last.

Stephen Weatherford is going into his fourth and final year as the starting quarterback for Land O' Lakes. The youngest of nine siblings, Stephen is the final chapter in a Weatherford legacy in the Gators football program that has watched seven Weatherfords receive football scholarships.

The quarterback legacy within the Weatherford family is even more impressive. Stephen's father Bill played quarterback at SMU, as did his grandfather of the same name (the elder Bill Weatherford played in the same backfield with Doak Walker). Older brothers Will (Jacksonville University), Drew (Florida State) and Joe (UCF/West Georgia) also had success playing the position.

"The family has a very competitive nature," said Land O' Lakes head coach Matt Kitchie. "It's friendly, but it's competitive and rather than live in each other's shadows, they try to leave their own marks."

And if a strong junior season and a recent eye-popping performance at the Elite 11 quarterback camp is any indication, Stephen will leave a mark hard to erase.

"I'm trying to do my own thing and do it to the best of my abilities," Stephen said. "I can't worry about what my brothers did in the past and try to equal or better that. I just want to be part of a successful team."

Last year Weatherford's improvement showed up on the stat sheet. He threw 27 touchdown passes and cut down his interceptions from 12 to five. Even though his postseason lasted just one game, the whole body of work was more than enough to get attention from several FBS schools.

"I already have offers from USF and Vanderbilt is on the way," Weatherford said. "Purdue and East Carolina have also said they are sending offers."

The list should continue to grow after the spring, but there is a school that sticks out.

"I've always liked Miami and hopefully that offer will come around," he said. "We'll see what happens."

The recruiting battle for Weatherford is expected to be competitive and Kitchie believes that whoever lands the 6-foot-4 signal-caller will get a tremendous prospect.

"Right now Stephen is doing the things that college quarterbacks do -- the read progressions, changing protection on the line -- he's very advanced for this stage," Kitchie said.

And he's not alone in that opinion.

"Honestly, Stevie probably does everything better than I did," Joe Weatherford said. "I mean he's bigger, he's more accurate and smarter. He was blessed with the ability to run very well, which I didn't have."

"One of the biggest differences I see is his knowledge of the game," Drew Weatherford said. "He's so smart and understands so many of the little intricacies that I didn't at his age. He's also much more instinctive. He's got a little Brett Favre in him."

Stephen credits the program that Kitchie, a second-year coach, has implemented.

"We have so much more structure in the program right now," Stephen said. "We have a strict training regimen and I can feel myself getting bigger and stronger. Coach stresses studying the film and recognizing the defenses that we're going to see. We're doing everything we can to get better."

And he still realizes that there are many improvements to make.

"I definitely want to work on my arm strength and get that improved," he added. "I want to make sure some of my passes get there as quick as possible."

One thing Stephen shares with his older brothers is a commitment to academics. Older brother Will was a strong student and is now a member of the Florida House of Representatives.

Drew was a two-time selection on the All-ACC Academic team and is currently helping raise money for the Seminole boosters at Florida State. Joe has already graduated from UCF and will be attending graduate school while playing for West Georgia.

Stephen has a 3.5 GPA and will take his SAT in March, with the ACT to follow in April. He plans on being an early enrollee in college.

"I can only see Stephen's stock rising," Kitchie said. "He's big, he's athletic, and he comes from a great background with a great family full of success stories. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to coach him."

Older brother Will, who went to Jacksonville University before embarking on a career in politics, says that his younger brother is finally enhancing his natural ability with an improved work ethic.

"Forever Stephen has had tremendous natural talent, he's more talented than any of us," Will said. "But now that he's gone to some camps and compared himself to other quarterbacks it's opened his eyes to understanding how much better he could be with hard work. I always tell him to be great at anything it takes hard work."

Will also believes that Stephen's mobility will make him more appealing to colleges because the current style of the college game fits his skill set.

"With the spread offense in today's college game, there is a major emphasis on being mobile and elusive," Will said. "His ability is what a lot of coaches are looking for."

Stephen's experience following his brothers' recruitment should help him make the right decision and understand the rigors of being a quarterback at a top college program.

"The main thing is finding the right coaches that will treat him fairly and allow him to compete," Joe said. "It makes all the difference."

Drew adds that Stephen knows all about the expectations in college after watching him at Florida State.

"He had to sit there at 15 and listen to 80,000 fans praise me when I did well and curse me when I didn't," Drew said. "He probably understands the deal better than I did because I didn't have to hear it during the games."

With all the talent in the Weatherford family, the brothers' competitive nature remains evident when asked which one would be considered the best.

"We've all got our strengths, but I've been able to take everything from each of them and apply it," Stephen said. "That might be considered an advantage."

Drew, naturally, has a different take.

"I've got a nice combination of size, speed and strength," he said. "Plus I'm tough, I got beat up by my older brothers when I was the youngest and when I started beating up on my younger siblings, my older ones beat me up some more for doing it. I got it from all sides."

But Joe might have the correct answer.

"Probably our sister Grace. She's the best athlete."

Corey Long is a freelance writer in Florida.