These past few weeks have been bittersweet for Texas Bullets owner and player Jeromy Puckett.
He was recently inducted in the Semi-Pro Football Hall of Fame in Las Vegas in December. In 10 days he and the Bullets will play the Ohio Crush in Orlando for the Minor Professional Football League national championship.
And he lost a good friend and teammate a few days before Christmas. Bullets all-star linebacker Deandre Wilson was shot and killed in a Denton bar.
Puckett and the Bullets have dedicated the national championship game to Wilson.
"Deandre had a huge influence on our team. He had so much passion about the game of football and wanted to make everyone else around him a better player," Puckett said. "He brought so much life to the locker room and the field."
While the death of Wilson does cast a shadow on it all, Puckett nonetheless has plenty of which to be proud. The 43-year-old former Weatherford Kangaroo (1990-93) is approaching a decade without having missed a game playing on the offensive line, 123 consecutive.
"I would like to thank David Bourquin, Jim Yarnell, Steve Goben, Brett Lang for everything they taught me about the great game of football," Puckett said, giving a nod to his former coaches.
As for playing so many consecutive games, Puckett said, it has to be by the grace of God.
“I know that sounds cliché but after my fifth knee surgery I was told I would never play again, so to not only play, but to play every single snap for nine years at my age is something I am really proud of," he added.
Puckett said the Hall of Fame honor was both special and humbling. It was also unexpected.
"I'm still in shock. When I first got the call I thought I was being pranked," he said. "This was truly an honor and something I will always cherish."
It is, however, easy to see why Puckett's name is known throughout minor league football. He helped build one of the top powerhouses in the nation, including a team that has yet to lose this season as they enter the national title game.
And while they have accomplished so much, they have yet to bring home a national championship. This is their second time in three seasons to play for one, however.
"We played in the 2014 national championship game and came up a little short, so getting to go back and have the chance to bring it back home is really special," Puckett said.
A win on Jan. 14 would have added significance since Puckett's career is drawing to a close. In fact, this was going to be his final game, but he opted for one more season.
"I really wanted to play one more season and make it to the 10-year mark, so God willing I hope to make this my last season," he said.
"My wife Chastity will tell you this has been my last season for the last nine years," he added with a smile.
Puckett recalled how he got started playing semi-pro ball.
"I was playing on a flag football team called the Bullets here in Weatherford and one of the guys kept asking me and some of the other guys to come play for a semi-pro team in Dallas, and I said no way," he said. "Two of the guys (Wayne Jones and David Beninati) said, 'What if we put a team here in Weatherford, would you play then?'
"Thinking there was no way that would ever happen, I said sure. Well, the next week I show up for our flag game and David said 'Me and Wayne bought a team to start here in Weatherford and you are playing.'"
Puckett said the final decision was up to Chastity. He expected her to say no, but she surprised him.
"She said, 'If you don’t do this you will regret it for the rest of your life,'" he remembered.
Instead, it has created some of the greatest memories of his life. He bought the team six years ago. Chastity even got involved and now runs the game-day affairs.
The Bullets have won two league championships, but he said it's the feeling of brotherhood that has impacted him most.
"Being on a team with 60 guys from all walks of life doing something they just love to do is something pretty special," he said.
"Jeromy is literally the glue that has held this team together from day one, even before he owned the team," said Bullets quarterback Matt Long. "I'm blessed to have played with Puck and to call him a friend.
"This team has been champs of both major leagues in this region and expects to go to Florida and continue with what has made them successful in Texas. That's guts, talent and players that feed off the commitment, determination and leadership of Jeromy."
Puckett and the Bullets have worked hard to make it a team for the entire community, an area that has been a special part of his own life, from his days of growing up.
Among the community activities the Bullets are involved in are coaching youth football and holding an annual camp, along with helping out with 7-on-7 activities in the summer. The Bullets also include the Weatherford High girls dance team in game performances, along with an annual game to honor veterans.
"He's got a great heart for this game and for the guys on the team," said head coach and long-time friend Adam Sharp. "As a player there is no give-up in Jeromy. He plays hurt all the time and gives his all on every play.
"His induction into the Hall of Fame shows his commitment to our community and his work ethics on the field. Jeromy is an amazing guy, and I am proud to call him a friend. It's been an honor to play beside him since Day One of this team's journey, and now to coach him."
And whether it's one more season or 10 more (he can always change his mind), Puckett said he will continue to own the team and be involved daily.
After all, there's more than winning (which they do a lot of) and losing (which they rarely do). There's family, which every member of the squad, including wives, moms, dads, children, all walks of relatives, and of course the fans and community are.
"This team is about so much more then football, it's about family and helping each other out from time to time. A lot of these guys need this team for different reasons," Puckett said.
As he prepares for his final season, Puckett said he has plenty of people to thank, and though the list is long, he leaves no one out.
"I would really like to thank Wayne Jones and David Beninati for starting the Bullets and giving me a chance to play this great game I love so much. I would like to thank all of the Bullets coaches Steve Lightfoot, Joe Greene, B.J. Bishop, Doug Beard, Joe Smith, Jacob Smith, Cody Deaver, Robert Taliaferro, Tom Jones, Cameron Almendarez, and Scott Ashton for all their hard work to make the Bullets what we are today.
Puckett said he thanks his past and current players that include the only two quarterbacks in Bullets history, Matt Long and Justin Willis, saying, “it was a honor blocking for you guys.”
“I want to thank my mom for all the peewee, middle school and high school games you took me to,” he said. “My dad, I really wish you were here to see this and I hope I make you proud everyday. My two sons who have spent Saturdays and Sundays watching their dad play.
"My amazing wife Chastity who has worked her butt off to make this team so special and never telling me how crazy I am to be playing football at my age."
And, speaking of Chastity, he knows when he finishes playing the work won't get easier, just different.
"I will have work a lot harder after I am done playing," he added with a laugh. "I am pretty sure Chastity is going to have me busy on game days."