Grace Weatherford is the first of athletic siblings to star in soccer.
LAND O'LAKES - And you thought the Weatherfords just played football.
Grace Weatherford, whose three older brothers earned college football scholarships after stellar careers at Land O'Lakes, is the family's first futbol standout.
A forward on last season's soccer team that captured the first state championship in county history, Weatherford has helped the Gators overcome the loss of their top two scorers.
With all-time county leading scorer Stacy Bishop (192 goals) starting at Louisiana State and Casie Poyssick setting records (26 goals) at Saint Leo, Weatherford has picked up the slack. Through Tuesday's 8-0 win over Gulf, she leads unbeaten Land O'Lakes (6-0) with 11 goals and 25 points.
"Last year I assisted them and they scored all the goals," Weatherford said of her former teammates. "It's been the complete opposite of what I'm used to. I guess I have to step up and take a different role."
"Last year, she was playing in the shadow of Stacy and Casie," coach Vicky King said of Weatherford, who last season finished third in team scoring and tied for 11th in the county with seven goals and 25 assists for 39 points.
"She was just another player, but now she's a leader," King said. "I think winning a state championship added to her confidence."
A tri-captain with goalkeeper Shannon Aitken and defender Jessica Gagnon, Weatherford relishes her new role. Aside from encouraging teammates and leading by example on the field, Weatherford tries to be responsible off the field as well.
"I won't do stupid things," Weatherford said. "My brothers would kill me before anyone else."
According to her father Bill, sons Will (who played linebacker at Jacksonville, 2002 graduate), Sam (a junior tight end at Fordham) and Drew (Land O'Lakes quarterback and Florida State signee) have nothing on Grace, a 17-year-old junior.
"I've been saying for years that I thought Grace might be the best athlete of the whole family," Bill Weatherford said. "She's a natural. She's a competitor."
"I was like a tomboy," Weatherford said. "I was so competitive with them. I raced them. I played football. It made me tougher."
Tough enough to excel against boys or girls. When she played on an under-12 girls team with the Northdale Soccer Club, Weatherford's teams often faced boys for lack of girls teams. They didn't win, but played boys teams' close, Bill Weatherford said.
A 34 goal-scorer for the Land O'Lakes junior varsity team as a freshman, Weatherford had four goals in six playoff games during a late-season call-up. Last season, her header in the state semifinal tied Gulf Breeze in regulation before Bishop's overtime tally clinched a 2-1 win.
That came after King urged Weatherford to shoot more, and she has responded this season. In a 6-0 win over Pasco, Weatherford scored four for the first time. In the win over Gulf, she nearly matched that with a hat trick.
"She's very capable of scoring," King said. "She's got a very good shot and she shoots well with both feet."