Oct. 27, 2009
Tulsa, Okla. -
On July 25, 2009, Mike Bryan lost his hero.
Rick Bryan, Mike's father, passed away from a heart attack at 10:30 p.m. at his family's home in Coweta.
The man that taught Mike so much about family, life and football was gone.
But where Mike lost his mentor stood a friend - Someone that had been there since they met in little league wrestling when Mike was in kindergarten - Tulsa red-shirt senior offensive lineman Curt Puckett.
"I was in kindergarten and he was in first grade and we were in little league wrestling together," Mike Bryan said. "That was when his dad and my dad first started talking and we came to find out that we lived only two blocks from each other. So from kindergarten on we were with each other about everyday of the week. We were like brothers."
So it was no surprise that when Mike needed someone the most, Curt was there.
"From the Monday (after my father's death), Curt was there every single day," Bryan said. "He would get there at 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. after doing workouts in the morning, and he would be at my house the rest of the day. I may have been off by myself for a while there, but he was there with my mom and my sisters. Knowing that he was there meant a bunch to me."
To Curt there wasn't a choice.
"We were wrapping up summer workouts at the time," Curt Puckett said. "I would come in and lift weights around 6:00 a.m., and as soon as I would get done I headed back to Coweta. To me there wasn't any option, because that's where I needed to be. I tried to help out in any way possible, even though you can't help out a whole lot in a situation like that. I just wanted to be there for anything they needed, if it was running to the store for something or someone to talk to."
Rick had a profound impact on both of Mike and Curt's lives, starting with the countless days spent working on the Bryan family farm in Coweta.
"As kids, he was always going out to my farm and working with me," Bryan grinned. "We ran around with my dad a lot and he was hard on both of us. He didn't look at Curt and say `That's Mike's friend and I'm not going to get onto him or make him work.'"
Curt remembers how moments on the farm shaped his life.
"It was a pretty incredible time," Puckett said. "There's a lot of hard work that goes on out there. Rick was like a second father to me, because he chewed me out like I was his son without any hesitation. It helped shape how I grew up and made me the person I am today."
The two also developed a shared love for noodling, a method of catching catfish by using only your bare hands. Even if it took Curt a little convincing.
"We started going when we were really young," Puckett said. "At first we would just hold the boat for his dad and his uncles, but when we got a little older we started doing it ourselves. They finally got me to put my hand in a hole to catch a fish by telling me `Just reach in that hole and feel that nothing is in there.'
"I said `Okay' and reached in there and [a fish] bit me. I pulled my hand out as fast as I could and I saw that all the skin had been peeled back and it was bleeding, but I tried again and I finally ended up catching a little four-pound catfish."
The time Puckett and Bryan shared sweating on the farm and getting bit by fish in the lake taught them a valuable lesson. It showed them that whatever physical limitation they may have was no substitution for hard work and toughness.
"Honestly, I know that is the only reason we are here," Bryan said. "We are both good athletes but neither one of us are what you would call blue chips. My dad instilled that toughness in us and I can guarantee that is the reason both of us are here."
It's been quite a journey for two small-town boys to The University of Tulsa. Mike and Curt have been playing football together for the better part of 14 years, from pee wee football in the third grade to four years of Division I football. It's a trip that few ever get to take.
"Coming from a small town, not a lot of people come out and go the Division I level in any sport," Bryan said. "So to come out and play football here at Tulsa with my best friend is a big deal. Not very many people get to do that. It's an honor and privilege to come here and play with Curt."
Bryan led Tulsa with 119 tackles last season, and is currently second on the team with 52 stops in seven games this year. He has also recorded 7.5 tackles for a loss and one interception this season.
Puckett is in his third year as a starter at offensive guard, and has made 34 career starts in 36 games. This season, he has assumed protection-calling duties at the line of scrimmage due to inexperience at the center position.
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