Land O'Lakes QB spreads the credit to teammates
By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
LAND O'LAKES -- Ask quarterback Drew Weatherford about the season he's having and he won't mention his county-record 2,255 passing yards, or state-leading 33 touchdown passes.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior won't say he's thrown only two interceptions, that he's averaging a gaudy 17 yards per completion, that he's a big reason why Land O'Lakes High School is undefeated, and hosting Ocala Vanguard in tonight's playoff game.
He won't say that Auburn has already offered him a football scholarship; that he heard South Florida really wants him; that Florida State is looking, too.
Instead, Weatherford will talk about how receiver Logan Payne leads the state with 19 touchdown receptions. He'll mention how good his offensive line is, how well teammates Joey Tuttle and Bobby O'Dell have blocked for him. He'll talk about how smart the coaches are, how tough the defense is.
Weatherford will talk about all of that. It's just talking about himself that he has trouble with.
Nobody else has that problem.
"Just about everybody I talk to who knows high school football knows about Drew Weatherford," coach John Benedetto said. "He's a special player, there's no doubt about that. But more so he's a special kid. He's just a great kid."
Tonight, a record six Pasco County high schools enter the state football playoffs: Land O'Lakes, Mitchell, Pasco, Ridgewood, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills. It is a special year for football in this county.
None is more special than the 17-year-old Weatherford. He is not too good to be true.
Already one of the greatest football players in county history and one of the best in the state, next year Weatherford will be one of the most recruited players in the nation.
But he doesn't want to talk about that.
"There's not much to talk about," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "You're only as good as the players around you. That's the truth.
"Because it's a team game. It's not about me, at all. If all 11 of us aren't doing our jobs, it could screw up everything. Everybody has to work together. It isn't about me individually in this game at all."
Who is the cannon-armed kid who wears No. 1? His teammates and coaches praise him up and down: nice, kind, polite, respectful, humble, hard-working, dedicated. Deeply spiritual, he's always a leader.
"He's very religious, and he's earnest in what he does," friend and teammate Gio Benedetto said. "He's sincere, he's not a hypocrite, and that's what I love about him."
In the classroom Weatherford has a 3.6 grade-point average and on the field he's just as smart, running a complicated passing offense that averages 40.8 points per game that no one has yet stopped. He and his teammates make their own adjustments, and he can at times call his own plays -- virtually forbidden at this level.
He's a natural-born athlete, scion of a family of athletes, the fourth of eight talented siblings. His father, Pat, played quarterback at Southern Methodist University, and his grandfather was on the same team with the famous Doak Walker.
Weatherford has started every game at QB since his freshman year. He has rewritten the school's passing records and this season did the same with the county's records.
Yet he has begged his coaches to let him play defense.
They said no, of course.
But he still craves the contact.
"That's why when I run the ball I love to get a good collision," he said. "That's what gets my adrenaline flowing. I like getting hit. It gets my blood flowing."
Land O'Lakes is a talented team, 10-0, the champion of Pasco County. But with Weatherford under center the Gators have become something different: an event, almost. As the statistics pile up with every game, with every last-minute comeback, with every win, Weatherford is becoming more and more of a local legend at Gator Stadium.
"It's very flattering, but you just can't let it get in your head," Weatherford said. "My dad tells me not to pay too much attention to it, because it can all be taken away."
Ask Gio Benedetto if all the attention bothers Weatherford, and he'll say no. Weatherford isn't as shy as he pretends, but he is as humble as he says.
"He likes being the star, but he likes better the fact that he's worked for it," Benedetto said. "Everyone in his family has played football. He was raised with an ultimate respect for his father, who taught him everything.
"He considers himself to be a very good quarterback. But he knows he has to be humble, and a lot of that is from his family."
But what defines Weatherford most is that he is a competitor.
"When we're playing one-on-one basketball, we're ready to fight at the end of the game," Payne said. "Drew cannot lose. All hell breaks loose. He's nuts. He won't be denied."
Competition is the best teacher, Weatherford said. "Teamwork, patience, I'm learning so much," he said. "You try your best to be humble about the success you have, and to learn that when things aren't going well for you, you can always turn things around no matter how bad things seem."
Weatherford has always harbored the prototypical boy's fantasy of playing quarterback for a major Division I-A team, of playing someday in the NFL. Not merely for the fame and fortune, he said, but to test himself against the best.
"I set that goal when I was young and innocent and stupid," he said. "It's not the fame I want. I want to go to the NFL. I would love to play against the best. It brings out the best in me."
In the end, he said, he just wants to play.
"If the quarterback things falls through," he said. "I would love to go to college and play defense."
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