MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — If you were slotting him in by weight, he would have fallen between Terron Armstead and Rob Hunt.
They’re offensive linemen.
He’s a punter.
His name is Tommy Heatherly, an undrafted free agent trying to land a job on the Dolphins with an impressive set of statistics kicking a ball but even better statistics kicking bad habits.
Heatherly is 6-0 and 205 pounds now, but he once ballooned up to 318 pounds — identical to Benito Jones, a defensive tackle.
To put it another way: Of the 26 linemen on the Dolphins’ roster, Heatherly used to outweigh 18 of them. Then he went on a “huge, extreme diet” that made him not-so-huge. Then, complacency set in and he had to fight much of the fight all over again before deciding he’d never put himself in that position a third time.
“Being heavy at one time, if I gain 3 pounds over a weekend just from eating a little bad, I’m working harder the next day just to cut that back off,” he said.
Heatherly could push Morstead for punting job
That’s the only kind of cut he wants to associate himself with, having arrived in Miami Gardens after impressing the Dolphins during a tryout for area college prospects before the draft. Heatherly has the credentials to make a run at being Miami’s punter in 2022 even though he’ll have to beat out Thomas Morstead, a 2012 Pro Bowl punter and former Super Bowl winner with the Saints.
Morstead is 36. Heatherly turns 24 during training camp.
Morstead is due to make $1 million compared to $705,000 for Heatherly, but since $550,000 of Morstead’s deal is guaranteed, the cap savings are virtually a wash.
So what if it’s simply performance? Morstead — who sent Heatherly a congratulatory text when he signed — averaged 47.2 yards per punt for the Jets and Falcons last season. Heatherly averaged 46.4 for FIU and has been a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, presented to the nation’s top punter.
Heatherly’s presence once was unlikely for reasons unrelated to weight. FIU coach Butch Davis was watching tape of a junior college punter in Texas when he stumbled upon a kick by Heatherly, the opposing punter. There was an instant connection. Heatherly was punting for Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. Davis is from Oklahoma. Heatherly didn’t even know where FIU was. It didn’t matter. He jumped at Davis’ scholarship offer.
“I’m so blessed that I got that opportunity down here, to get away from a small town in Oklahoma,” Heatherly said. “He came and found me in juco, so I can’t ever thank him enough.”
Heatherly’s arrival at FIU wasn’t unlike his early days at A&M. Both times, he ate everything in sight. A Saturday breakfast at McDonald’s would consist of three sausage, egg and cheese McGriddles, two breakfast burritos, a triple cheeseburger, two large fries and two large Cokes.
Today: “I haven’t had McDonald’s in a long time, and that was a huge thing, fast food like that, you know? Just going through those changes, you go through these withdrawals, I guess. It sounds crazy, but you get used to it after a couple of weeks.”
The best punter in Dolphins history was Reggie Roby, a physical presence at 6-3 and 249 pounds. Heatherly once outweighed Roby by 69 pounds.
He hopes that never happens again.
“I’m looking forward to the future and I think I’m going to look a lot better than this in a couple of months,” Heatherly said.