When the economy forced the commissioners of the Arena Football League to cancel the 2009 season, the fans and the players were left with a summer without football.
For former Bradwell Institute football star and six-year Dallas Desperados Iron-man wide receiver/defensive back Will Pettis, it was an abrupt end to an aspiring career.
Pettis was the two–time winner of the AFL Iron-man of the Year Award in 2007 and 2008, and he earned five consecutive nods to the all iron-man team.
Coming into the 2008 season, Pettis had amassed 12,565 all-purpose yards and was the longest tenured Desperados player. He was the club’s all-time leading receiver with 476 receptions for 5,589 yards and 116 touchdowns.
It’s been nearly a year since Pettis and the rest of the AFL league players were told it’s over.
"What I miss is the excitement of playing professionally," he said. "I miss the fellowship with my teammates and the fans as well. I miss it all because of the way it was taken from me. I didn’t give up football; it was ripped out of my grasp."
The 31-year-old has started a life beyond the grid-iron, opening a personal training business and looking to foster and mentor young athletes. He also started a career in the tele-media industry.
While playing for the Desperados, Pettis became an
active volunteer in youth activities within the Dallas-Fort Worth community where he, his wife Akiah, his daughters Heaven-Leigh and Gabriella, and sons William and Christian call home. He supports the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Dallas, has served twice as a celebrity guest coach at the Dallas Cowboys Let Us Play! Sports Camp for Girls and can often be found playing basketball, video games or pool with at-risk youth served by clubs.
Pettis participated in the Salvation Army Angel Tree Program and the American Cancer Society’s Smoke Out Event.
Today, Pettis remains active with youth groups and programs.
"I’ve been doing camps for the last month," he said. "I am doing a few more in July and hope to gain the trust of young athletes and parents through the work demonstrated in the camps."
He said he will continue to encourage his children and others to participate in sports because it taught him valuable lessons.
"I learned how to be a good friend and teammate, what work ethic looks like and its benefits," Pettis said.
He added sports helped him stay in good physical condition.
"I want to be able to run with my kids and not get tired after two minutes," he said. "I must set a good example."
As for setting a good example, Pettis said he turned to his faith in God after some misfortunes.
"I was a sneaky kid," he said. "I didn’t get caught doing dirt as a youngster, but my hands were certainly not clean. You name it, I did it at one time or another. The Lord saved my life when I was out of control and restored some things I thought I had lost. Now, I’m not perfect, but I’m not the same person I was eight years ago by a long shot. I owe Christ my life and I must walk worthy of my calling. My mission is to live according to His Word as best I can on a daily basis. I think differently and see things as they are now."
With a new direction and purpose, Pettis said it would be difficult to think of returning to the grid-iron should the AFL return in 2010.
"I don’t know, at this point, if I want to suffer enough to play again," he said. "They would have to make it worth my while."
The AFL has not announced whether it will return next season.