Sophomore QB Rushes Through Competition

Jimmy Fisher, Reporter

The football team is still looking for its first victory, but with sophomore quarterback Jeff Puckett on the field, Cougar fans may cheer a win sooner than they expect.

Puckett has already shown great flashes of leadership and excellent ball-playing skills since he was selected as the team’s starting quarterback during his first year.

Head Coach Mark Ross said he selected Puckett to be his starter because of his promising work and his willingness to compete for the position.

“He came in and he competed every day. He earned it,” said Ross. “He earned it last year, and he came back in this year and he earned it again this year. That’s the thing that we preach to our guys – you earn it every day. You’re not going to be handed anything. You’ve got to earn it every day.”

Ross said Puckett has the necessary skill set and the right mindset and attitude.

“In terms of him personally, he’s got a lot of character traits you’d like to have in that position,” said Ross. “He doesn’t get too up, too down, and you know he has a business-type approach every day. When things can be crazy around him, he stays very level-headed.”

Puckett said he looked forward to competition just as soon as he joined the team.

“It was crazy,” Puckett said. “I mean, in high school I started all four years too, and that was kind of the deal why I came here at first besides the fact that I liked this school. I had the opportunity to play, and that was what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to sit the bench.”

He benefits from the playbook because it is similar to the one he learned during high school. Puckett has been doing a lot more running than throwing, something he did a lot back in the day.

“It takes a lot of pressure off the classics like standing back in the pocket and throwing the ball 20, 30 times a game,” said Puckett. “[The playbook] kind of gets me more settled in and makes easy throws here and there, and the base of it is running, which I became accustomed to in high school.”

Puckett recalled that he threw the ball only 48 times during his senior year season.

“He’s probably farther ahead right now as a runner than a thrower, and we continue to work on that and I think he’s makinga lot of progress,” said Ross. “He comes from a high school that didn’t throw a lot. We look at what our kids do best and try to utilize those [talents]. We have an offense where at that position you have to be a good decision maker, and you’ve got to be able to run a little bit, and I think Jeff’s a little bit better than most in that area. I wouldn’t say that just because of who he is and this is what we’re doing, but we certainly took what we envisioned into account with what our kids could do and try to mesh that.”

Passing is something Puckett has not done a lot of during game time this season. In the first three games alone, he was 14-28 for 142 yards.

Puckett said he’s always working to improve.

“We’re working a lot of drills in the season,” said Puckett. “We’re throwing a lot during practices, just trying to get me accustomed to it all. In the off-season we did a lot of work, too, whether it was in- dividually with my wide receivers or in the spring working different stuff and in the summer too.”

Puckett said he feels much more comfortable throwing the ball now thanks to the drills he’s been working as well as the film study he does six days a week.

Puckett’s teammates believe he has the skills necessary to lead and that’s why they chose him.

“I’d like to think it was because of the way he handles himself on the field and off the field,” said Ross. “I don’t think there are very many guys on this team who work much harder at everything in the weight room, on the field and in the classroom. He’s a 3.5 [GPA] student, so he gets it. He’s a com- plete package.”

Puckett is grateful to his teammates.

“It was an honor,” said Puckett. “I’m glad that they put their trust in me to lead them out on the field along with the other three captains, too. It’s a tremendous honor.”

Senior Jake Livingston, sophomore John Ameen and sophomore Hunter Pates serve as team captains.

Despite the recognition he’s received this season, including a co-offensive MAC player of the week, Puckett is still a team-first player. He said he wants to walk away each week with a win for his teammates.

“It would be a lot better with some wins, definitely,” said Puckett. “But the progress that we’ve shown as a team in general has been tremendous dating back to what everybody kind of saw last year. It’s been kind of night and day, I think. It’s just a testament to all the work we put into the off- season and the preseason.”

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