TAMPA, FL. – Following last September’s groundbreaking ceremony for the University of South Florida’s indoor performance facility, the chair of the university’s board of trustees shared his vision for something much larger than what brought everybody together that day.
“The great enthusiasm for this (indoor facility) has shown us that the time is right for an even greater commitment at USF athletics,” said Will Weatherford, to handful of media members. “I, for one, think Bulls Nation deserves a stadium on this campus.”
After Weatherford spent several minutes filling voice recorders and notepads, an individual attending the event was overheard asking another if Weatherford attended USF. He did not. However, for years he has shown great interest in the university, what is taking place within the walls of the Selmon Athletics Center, and, in the larger picture, USF’s profile within the Tampa Bay region and points well beyond.
Frankly, it is with such vigor and passion that the 43-year-old husband and father of four has gone about everything he has accomplished in his career.
Born in Dallas, Weatherford’s family moved to the Sunshine State when he was eight. It is a football family, for sure, with father, Bill, and a grandfather by the same name having played at SMU, the latter a teammate of 1948 Heisman winner Doak Walker.
One of nine siblings, Weatherford and his five brothers, including former Florida State quarterback, Drew, played football at Land O’Lakes High while being homeschooled.
Weatherford left home for Jacksonville University where he was not only a linebacker and team captain, but also active within the university community having served as student-body vice president. That helped set the stage for serving in the Florida Legislature from 2006-2014.
“I started caring more about public service in college,” said the Wesley Chapel resident. “At a very young age I was afforded the opportunity to run for office. I think service is something that I have always cared about.”
Weatherford was elected to the Florida House of Representatives when he was only 26. In 2012, at 32, the Republican became the youngest Speaker of the Florida House in state history and was the youngest presiding officer of any state legislative chamber in the country at the time of his appointment.
As house speaker, Weatherford succeeded Allan Bense, whose son, Jason, was a teammate at JU and whose daughter, Courtney, became his wife.
“Anything I have ever done that has had any remote success at all has always been because somebody invested in me, gave me an opportunity and encouraged me,” said Weatherford, who with brothers Drew and Sam founded Weatherford Capital in 2015. The growth equity firm has offices in Tampa and Dallas.
Weatherford was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January 2021 to serve on USF’s board of trustees. Last summer, fellow board members, of which there are 11 plus a faculty senate president and a student government president, selected him to be the chair, which has a two-year term.
Long before serving on the board, Weatherford saw USF as an institution that was elevating its profile in virtually every key metric.
“I was able to see the rise of the leadership of (former USF president) Judy Genshaft at a time when the university was transitioning from a fast-growing commuter school to an R1 research-based leader, not just in Florida, but globally,” he said, in referencing the highest designation for research universities. “I was able to witness the growth and trajectory change right in front of my eyes.”
But something has been missing within his field of vision, and that of others: an on-campus football stadium.
A stadium would serve as something much more than a venue hosting 60 minutes of action on the gridiron six or seven times each autumn. Rather, it would serve as a place for numerous activities throughout the year while being utilized by students, staff, alumni, and members of the university community.
“It is important for the university and it is important for this community,” said Weatherford, who served as co-chair of the Super Bowl LV Host Committee. “It is a coming-of-age moment for any large university and an activation tool for our alumni and our students. It provides an experience beyond academics, something that people come to expect from a top-tier university.”
A site for the stadium was recommended last month, though this is a project that will take a few years to deliver. During a press conference in January, athletic director Michael Kelly stated that it was his desire for the stadium to be ready for the 2027 season opener against Miami.
Whether that comes to fruition will be dependent on numerous details that have yet to emerge, such as those revealed on blueprints and financial statements. Weatherford, though, felt it was only a matter of time before talk of building a stadium, of which there has been in recent years, became something more than, well, chatter.
“I think it was destined to happen and sometimes somebody has to push the boulder down the hill,” he said. “That is really what I have been trying to do, give the boulder a nudge, build momentum and help take it to the next level.”
The next level can sometimes be difficult to attain, no matter what it is. Time moves fast and sometimes the grains of sand have a way of slipping through the hourglass with little or nothing being accomplished. At USF, however, the university’s leadership, from president Rhea Law to football coach Jeff Scott, who Weatherford praises “as a tremendous ambassador for the university,” seem to share a vision and a sense of urgency.
Law was named interim president last August before assuming the position on a permanent basis last month. The 72-year-old Tampa native is the university’s eighth president, and first alum to serve in that role.
“She is the right president for the right time,” said Weatherford. “I think it was obvious for everyone to see that she had a natural knack and instinct for what the job took. She is building a great culture throughout the university. That’s what it takes to succeed at anything, whether it is athletics or academics. She understands that and has been exuding it.”
Succeeding in concert with the greater Tampa Bay area is something that cannot be overstated. After all, the university and the region need each other.
“We are the fastest rising university in what is probably the fastest rising community in the United States,” said Weatherford. “Whether it is people starting businesses here, or moving here to start a business, the economic development that is taking place has completely changed the face of Tampa. USF is changing with it.”