Editor’s note: S Sterling Weatherford signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent on April 30.
OXFORD, Ohio (BVM) – Coming out of Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Indiana, Sterling Weatherford was plenty familiar with college sports. Each of Weatherford’s older siblings played basketball at the collegiate level, and for a while, it seemed like Weatherford may follow suit.
The youngest of four, Weatherford shined on the court and played AAU basketball, but also impressed on the gridiron. It was similar to his brother closest in age to him, Grant, who also had options in both sports when it came to college.
While Grant could have potentially played football and basketball at a school like Ohio, he pursued his dreams on the hardwood, committing to Purdue, and eventually finished his college basketball career at Georgia Southern. Grant is just one of many athletic success stories this talented family has had over the years, as Sterling’s oldest brother played basketball collegiately at Rose-Hulman, while his older sister was an Indiana All-Star on the hardwood.
“Basketball was kind of that family’s first love for sure,” Sterling’s high school football coach Mitch Street said. “I coached Grant in football and Grant was a phenomenal football player too as well as a basketball player.”
For Sterling, seeing his siblings succeed at a young age was not a burden, but rather an inspiration to do so himself someday.
“I definitely think that kind of became an expectation for himself,” Street said about Sterling following his older siblings in athletics. “He wanted to follow in those footsteps … He knew that that was something he wanted to do. Being the youngest of the four, he did see all the success.”
Fast forward to the present, and Sterling has succeeded in writing his own chapter into the book of Weatherford athletic success. That began in high school, where he was a team captain, all-state player, and one of the top-50 players in Indiana as a senior.
During his freshman year at Hamilton Heights, Sterling became a starter at cornerback. After playing the same position as a sophomore, he was moved to safety for his junior year and also began playing some wide receiver and tight end for the Huskies.
“He played for us as a freshman, but he got better every year,” Street said. “Not only did he get better, but we moved him, he had to learn something new just about every year that he played for us.”
Being able to form a relationship with Sterling growing up as he watched the other Weatherfords come through the school, Coach Street knew he had a special talent in Sterling once he got to high school.
“I got to know Sterling at a pretty young age,” Street said. “I kind of watched him grow up … He played together with Grant his senior year and played a lot of football for us. You could kind of tell then that he had a lot of potential to be a really nice football player.”
However, coming out of high school, Sterling was only rated as a two-star football recruit. For a while, many expected he may opt to play basketball in college like his siblings before him, and did receive some low-level DI interest.
“For the large portion of his high school career, Sterling was a basketball guy that played football,” Street said. “We had a conversation towards his junior year, I told him, ‘I know college basketball is in your family and I totally get that. I love basketball too and if that’s what you want to do I’m going to support you. But I want to let you know you really have some opportunities in football if that’s what you want to do, and I think you can be pretty special at it.’”
Street was absolutely right. Sterling did have some interest to walk on from a few Big Ten football schools such as Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue, but with each of those programs going through a coaching change at the time, he was looking for a more stable environment.
“He had a couple of different MAC offers and had more that were probably coming,” Street said. “He did have some Big Ten interest, but there were some coaching changes there that led to those kind of fizzling out a little bit.”
One of the handful of DI offers Sterling held was from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and that is ultimately where the safety ended up.
What many might not know is how strong Sterling has been in the classroom over the course of his life. One of the biggest draws to Miami (OH) was the engineering program they have, and Sterling has since gotten his degree in that field. While he was in high school, Sterling even mentioned to Street that he would consider giving up football if it ever got in the way of his academics.
“Academics were important to him, he was top-10 percent in his class here,” Street added. “The big thing with Miami, really what sold him was the academics. I also think the coaching staff there did a really good job connecting with Sterling.”
After redshirting in his true freshman season in Oxford, Sterling finally took the field in 2018, and showed flashes of potential. In 12 games, he totaled 27 tackles and an interception, and had a nine-tackle performance in a contest against Army.
By 2019, Sterling became a full-time starter for the RedHawks and improved dramatically. The safety racked up 98 tackles as well as two sacks and another interception. While his momentum would be halted a bit due to the pandemic limiting Miami (OH) to just three games in 2020, Sterling bounced back in 2021.
As a senior, the safety produced another 66 tackles, helping the RedHawks to a second-place finish in the Mid-American Conference (MAC). He also led his team to a bowl win over North Texas in the Frisco Football Classic in December. Despite a few ups and downs through his college career, there is no doubt Sterling vastly improved.
Imma leave this here for yall… pic.twitter.com/7bipENdUpS
— Sterling Weatherford (@sweatherford2) February 10, 2022
“The thing I’m most proud of about Sterling’s development at Miami is that he’s really kept his athleticism and has gotten himself in an NFL-type of body,” Street said. “That’s not easy to do, but he’s really done that and maintained his ability to keep playing the back end of the defense. But then also because of how he’s developed and worked to put in the time and effort, he has opportunities to kind of be that flex guy or hybrid-type guy that NFL teams seem to use all the time now.”
Going into his college career, Street as well as the Miami (OH) coaching staff weren’t sure what Sterling would play. Too small at the time to be a linebacker or tight end, he was simply recruited based on his athleticism, talent and football IQ. He found a home as a safety for the RedHawks, but his versatility is something that could be key going forward.
Since the 6-foot-4, 224-pound senior finished up his Miami (OH) career, he has been looking towards the next level. With a big body and plenty of athleticism, many NFL teams have been envisioning Sterling as a safety/linebacker hybrid that has become more and more common in today’s game.
Perhaps a fringe draft pick earlier in the year, Sterling has continued to move up draft boards as a sneaky late-round selection. That is in part due to a good showing at the Senior Bowl and some impressive numbers at his pro day, including times of 4.60 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 6.93 in the three-cone, 4.33 in the shuttle and a 36-inch vertical jump.
— Jacob Keppen (@Jacobkeppen) February 3, 2022
Some may look solely at Sterling’s stats such as his 209 tackles in his college career, but his five years of experience with the RedHawks has allowed him to further grow his football IQ. A big size for a safety, there is a chance he becomes a linebacker at the next level, but his knowledge of the game should create a seamless transition.
It is also likely Sterling will embrace a role as a special teams player early on in his career, just as he did in his first year at Miami (OH). It’s an area he takes pride in, and Sterling’s passion for the game and willingness to do whatever it takes could lead to success in that role.
“He’s never afraid of contact,” Street said. “He embraces contact, and I think that has really shown through especially in the last couple of years … I think the biggest thing for him is that he’s not too proud to go do the work in the special teams game. You have to be able and willing to do and exceed in the special teams game. That’s not always fun or celebrated, but it gets you a crack at that level and I think he’s more than willing to do that.”
Length, size, hard hitting and decent pass-defending ability are all attributes of Sterling’s game. There will always be those who critique or doubt an athletes’ abilities, but for Sterling, all that matters now is someone believing and taking a chance on him.
“He’s going to bring a first-class work ethic, a first-class personality and person to an organization,” Street said. “I don’t think you can have enough of those types of guys on any team or any organization, whether football, sports related or just out in the workforce. That’s the first thing he’ll bring.
“In terms of football, he’ll bring a guy who has really developed his football lQ over the last five years. They’ve done a really nice job at Miami of just continuing to grow his football IQ and his understanding of the game. That’s back in line with his willingness to do whatever. Some guys say they will do whatever, and some guys actually mean that. I really feel like Sterling is a guy who means that. Whatever is needed, whatever is asked of him, he’s going to do it, and he’s going to do it with a smile, he’s going to do it with an energy, and do it for the people around him. He’s a true teammate.”
If Sterling does indeed hear his name called on draft day, it will be a proud moment for he and his family, the Miami (OH) program, and the Hamilton Heights community, where many already view him as a true role model on and off the field.
Bright futures for our guys!
— Miami Football (@MiamiOHFootball) March 26, 2022
“I think it’s huge for our community, we would obviously be very proud for him and what he has been able to accomplish,” Street said. “I just think he’s a top-notch individual. If football doesn’t last forever, he’s going to be successful and do really good things no matter what happens. That’s what I’m most proud of. I think he’s got a bright future in football, but after football is over he has a really bright future as well.”
A player that looks the part, has the talent, and continues to develop all the skills and tools needed for the NFL, Sterling looks like a potential upside steal late in the draft. If he lands in the right spot, there’s no telling how far he may go as a pro.
“I hope a team takes a chance on him and he gets drafted,” Street said. “That’s an elite percentage of people that have that opportunity. Just to put yourself in the conversation is a feat in itself. Once he is able to get drafted, it’s going to be hard to keep him off your roster. I think whatever he lacks in skill, he can overcome, and that’s really who he is as a person and what he brings to the table. He’s pretty special with those things combined.”