One day last week, the Shoreham-Wading River High School football coach, Matt Millheiser, took the unusual step of naming one of his team captains much earlier than usual. The honor bestowed upon senior lineman Bobby Puckey was less a reflection of how he played last season so much as his reaction to how he played.
The 2013 season wasn’t one that Puckey remembers fondly, and for good reason.
The tale actually precedes the last football season. Puckey tore the meniscus in his left knee while playing lacrosse as a sophomore.
“I didn’t get cleared until the end of July [in 2013] to play, and then I just constantly rehurt [it] and constantly was at the doctor’s, and didn’t have a chance to get myself into shape,” he said.
Puckey, a two-way starter, played in all of the football team’s games last season, but he said he wasn’t 100 percent. It showed in his play. During the team’s summer mini camp, coaches noticed that Puckey wasn’t the same football player they remembered when he was a sophomore.
“You could tell he wasn’t moving like the kid that we saw as a sophomore who we brought up to the varsity who started for us,” Millheiser said. “He had been kind of telling me throughout the spring that things were progressing, his knee was feeling stronger, he was going to feel fine, and that kind of wasn’t the case. … He was having some soreness. Unfortunately, it left him out of shape. He was getting real tired.”
“It was a disappointment when he came into camp and the player that we thought we were getting, you know, just couldn’t do what he wanted to do because his knee didn’t let him in the summer and he physically couldn’t do it later,” he continued. “He was frustrated, we were frustrated and it was tough.”
Strong legs are obviously vital to a lineman, who needs strength and leverage when engaging an opponent.
Puckey said the nagging injury was “definitely frustrating because I knew I could be a better player and help my team out more, but I was limited.” At the same time, he wasn’t using his bad knee as an excuse for holding him back. “It wasn’t just that,” he said. “It was not playing up to expectations, really. There’s no excuse for it.”
The good news for the Wildcats is that Puckey said he fully recovered this past winter. His knee is 100 percent healthy, he said, and he doesn’t feel pain in it any more.
Millheiser said the coaching staff was tough on Puckey, trying to hammer home the point that he wasn’t where he needed to be. They said he needed extra effort to make his senior year a special year, the coach said.
If there was a positive side to Puckey’s disappointing junior season, it might be the determination that burned inside of him to make his senior season a memorable one. Puckey went to work in the off-season, committing himself to training. He lifted weights in addition to working on his agility, conditioning and speed.
On top of that, Millheiser said, when Puckey obtained his driver’s license, he drove teammates to the weight room.
After designating Puckey the first of the four team captains (the others will be voted on by the players), Millheiser said, “I said to the kids, ‘That’s what a leader is, guys.’ ”
So, it is a determined Puckey heading into his third season as a varsity starter, with a little more responsibility placed on his broad shoulders. Being a captain involves more than just walking to the middle of the field for the coin toss before games.
“I can’t wait to get going to prove myself again,” he said, adding, “I got to do everything a hundred percent, don’t miss any reps and just be a leader.”
Millheiser said Puckey, who plays guard and defensive tackle, is a “great lineman.” The coach added, “As much as we’re here talking about his effort and his work, I think what’s special is there’s more to come, there’s more to pull out of it so we can continue to get Bobby Puckey higher and higher.”
This season Puckey has the opportunity to play alongside his brother, Jimmy, a junior brought up from the junior varsity team who plays offensive tackle and defensive tackle.
Jimmy Puckey said he feels a “little pride” in knowing that his brother is a team captain. Even so, he said, that still doesn’t stop him from trying to knock his brother down during practices.
Asked if he learned any lesson from his trying experience last year, Bobby Puckey said: “Just work hard and push through everything. You can overcome obstacles.”