By Kyle LoJacono
Certain football programs seem to have a talent for developing specific positions.
Sunlake creates offensive linemen, Wesley Chapel creates running backs and Pasco creates wide receivers.
For Land O’ Lakes, the tradition is to make top-flight quarterbacks, and the next player to fill that spot is Ethan Weilant.
The 6-foot, 160-pound sophomore has earned the starting job, impressing coaches with his arm, athleticism and decision making.
“I’m happy with what he’s doing physically and mentally,” said second-year Land O’ Lakes coach Brian Wachtel. “He’s also learning really fast. I have to remind myself sometimes that he just finished his freshman season because he’s developing quickly.”
He also has the players’ confidence.
“He can run and he can throw,” said junior running back/defensive end Shaheed Salmon. “He can be really really good. He can probably be one of the best in the county.”
Nothing less is expected from whoever is under center for the Gators.
If the trend didn’t start with Drew Weatherford, he certainly accelerated it. During his four years at Land O’ Lakes, which started in 2000, he set Pasco County’s career passing yards (7,657) and touchdowns (79) record.
Drew’s most prolific season came as a junior when he led the state with 37 touchdown passes while completing 70 percent of his throws for 2,494 yards. That year helped cement him a spot at Florida State University and also set the stage for his younger brothers.
Joe Weatherford replaced Drew as a sophomore in 2004. He was named the Class 5A Mr. Football by the Florida Athletic Coaches Association (FACA) after his senior season and went to play at the University of Central Florida before finishing his college career at the University of West Georgia.
Next up was the youngest Weatherford, Stephen, who totaled 6,090 passing yards and 74 touchdowns.
Stephen was named the All-Laker/All-Lutz News Offensive Football Player of the Year following his senior campaign in 2010 when he completed 122-of-206 passes for 2,136 yards and 30 touchdowns while adding 476 yards on 62 carries and another eight scores. He was a redshirt freshman at the University of Cincinnati in 2011-12 but has transferred to Lindenwood University.
Last season, Weilant learned behind quarterback Ryan Bird, who threw for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns. That year, the new signal caller also heard all about the program’s tradition at the position.
“It’s something I learned about really fast,” Weilant said. “People around town always talk about what the Weatherfords did here. I’ve heard a lot about them, and I want to do some of the same things they did here.
“It’s exciting,” Weilant continued. “There is a little bit of pressure to it because of how well (the Weatherfords) did here.”
He knows what it means to be Land O’ Lakes’ quarterback now, but he didn’t grow up around the program.
Weilant was born in Indiana and didn’t come to Pasco until sixth grade; the same year, he moved to quarterback while playing in Exciting Idlewild Baptist Church’s league. Before that, he played center.
He already has one start under his belt; a 52-3 win against Central where he completed 6-of-9 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Weilant said a throw in pregame let him know he was prepared.
“I don’t really know why I was as calm as I was because it was my first start,” Weilant said. “I remember there was a pass, a go route, when I was warming up when I hit Wesley (Moore). After I threw that, I was calm.”
Second-year Gators’ offensive coordinator Bill Schmitz said that game showed him Weilant’s potential.
“We’re hoping for tremendous progression during the summer,” Schmitz said. “Ethan is an incredibly talented young man, and he’s just learning how to play the quarterback position. He’s got a lot of skills, his throwing is improving and he has a better understanding in what we’re trying to do offensively.”
One thing that stuck out to Schmitz was how Weilant managed the first possession of Land O’ Lakes’ spring game in May against Fivay, a drive where the Gators lined up in eight different formations.
“He took us right down the field with no hiccups,” Schmitz said. “We go no huddle and utilize a lot of motion, and he’s managing that without a lot of illegal procedure penalties. That’s something a young person doesn’t always pick up. He’s also a student of the game. He’s been coming to me with questions because he’s watching film on his own.”
Weilant is also a multi-sport athlete. He threw the discus and ran the 800-meters and with the 4×800 relay team in track, was a pitcher/outfielder for the junior varsity baseball team and was a shooting guard who moved up to the varsity basketball team at the end of the season.
In addition to playing four sports, Weilant manages the demands of Land O’ Lakes’ International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
“I’ve always played a lot of sports,” Weilant said. He added, “It was pretty difficult in the spring with track and baseball and school at the same time.”
Even when talking about the pressure that comes with being the Gators’ quarterback, Weilant maintains a calm demeanor.
“I always try and stay relaxed, especially in games,” Weilant said. “I try and keep everyone calm at all times because going crazy isn’t going to help.”
Weilant admitted he might be a little more amped up than usual when the Gators are in the tunnel ready to take the field for their first game on Aug. 31 against Zephyrhills at 7:30 p.m.