ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — To become familiar with Corliss Waitman’s background, to listen to him politely and patiently repeat his compelling life story for curious strangers, is to know Jose Waitman’s legacy carries on.
Jose Waitman grew up in the Florida Panhandle town of Milton where he starred for the high school basketball team in the early 1980s. He went across the state border to nearby University of South Alabama where he was a four-year starting power forward, a rugged rebounder and defender if not much of a scorer.
Jose then played basketball 15 years overseas where he met his Dutch-speaking wife Aldofine and in 1995 the couple had a son, Corliss, who was born in Belgium and raised in the Netherlands, where dad was once the Dutch basketball league’s MVP.
Dutch is mom and Corliss’ first language. English is his second, although his only detectable accent is maybe one from north Florida.
"I pretty much grew up over there, played soccer, ran track and moved back (to Milton, Fla.) when I was 15 and got into football because they love football out here," Corliss Waitman said in a sit-down interview with 9NEWS. "I was like, let me play football because there’s more attention on football."
Corliss’ father passed away in 2013 a few days shy of his 49th birthday, and a few months before son Corliss turned 18. But when Corliss Waitman, who is all but officially an NFL rookie at 27 years old, first beat out 10-year veteran Sam Martin to win the Broncos’ punter job out of training camp and the preseason, then became the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his outstanding 10-punt performance in an 11-10 win last Sunday night against San Francisco, one of the first people he thanked was his father.
A lefty punter, Waitman would not have made it to the point he has without his dad’s influence.
"Definitively. Growing up, I was a little insecure sometimes when it came to soccer or track," Waitman said. "I always was talented but I was insecure. My dad was hard on me, that really helped me to believe in myself. I was very insecure, wasn’t sure before games and he used to lit into me: ‘You can do it. You can do it!’
So that tough love really helped me. Because I was a little soft growing up.”
His left leg is tough and strong, but to punt well in the NFL, it must have a soft touch. Among his 10 punts against the 49ers:
- 50 yards with a fair catch
- A punt downed at the 3 yard line by Essang Bassey
- Fair catch at the 11
- 47 yards to the 2 where Mike Boone straddled a tight rope just outside the end zone
- 53 yards to the 13 for a fair catch
- 43 yards to the 10 where it was muffed
That’s a punter who helps the defense, especially when two plays after the punt to the 2 led to a 2-point safety – the difference in an 11-10 win. It’s usually kickers and returners who receive Special Teams Player of the Week awards but this was a punting performance that could not be denied.
"You saw the game. Those gunners helped me out a lot because the ball has a mind of its own sometimes," Waitman said.
Mike Boone especially.
"Yeah he came through that was nice. I told him today, “Thank you, again."
After choosing to play at his late-father’s alma mater at South Alabama, Waitman was bouncing around the league on the lefty Friday punting tour when the Broncos brought him in on Friday, Oct. 29 of last year to give their returners a lefty spin look prior to going up against Washington’s lefty punter Tress Way.
"I knew why I was coming in, but still it was an opportunity," Waitman said.
He would fill in to punt for Pittsburgh in two December games, then was waived at season’s end. Broncos general manager George Paton and his assistant GM Darren Mougey remembered the strong lefty leg enough to pounce with a waiver claim.
"People look at everything you do," Waitman said. "I racked up some Delta Sky Miles, went to a lot of states, a lot of workouts, so it was definitely a blessing. Ended up having a workout here, got claimed so it definitely helped me out."
So while dad has been gone for 9 years, his influence carries on through the Broncos’ new, and already decorated punter.
"As soon as I made the NFL that confidence was already instilled in me because my dad had told me I could make it at anything I do," Waitman said. "So when I made it to the NFL I had that confidence that I really belonged here. It’s still unreal to me now. I’m in the NFL. I’m with the Broncos and I’m a starter. That is crazy. So every day I’m grateful."
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