By Tabatha Bender
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Participating in athletics at the NCAA Division I level can bring stress for a student-athlete in any sport. For Kansas junior halfback/flanker Brandon Bourbon, playing video games helps him alleviate some of that stress.
Gaming is an outlet that allows Bourbon to escape from his everyday life, so that he is more focused and ready to work when he needs to be. He said it’s something that allows him to get his mind off of everything and not become too overwhelmed with life.
“Gaming helps with my focus because it gives me an outlet to get away from football,” Bourbon said. “That way when I come back to work I’m refreshed and ready to focus again, especially because we have had challenging seasons recently and there is a lot of stress that comes with that. Gaming is a good way to release some of that stress.”
Bourbon’s roommate and fellow teammate, Ben Heeney, thinks playing video games is a way for Bourbon to focus on something besides football, something he believes all players need to do from time to time.
“He was pretty pumped when he got ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ recently,” Heeney said. “He is a serious gamer. He plays whenever he gets time. It’s just something that he enjoys doing outside of football. I think it’s a way for him to do his own thing and relax a little bit.”
Bourbon’s uncle got him interested in playing video games when he was younger and he has been gaming ever since.
“Ever since I was little I’ve liked to play video games,” Bourbon stated. “They help me learn and it’s always been a stress reliever for me, a way to escape for a little bit. My uncle, David, got me playing video games when I was about 10. I would always play with my dad, uncles and brother. Playing with them was what made it so fun. It was a group activity in my family.”
Bourbon said that at home in rural Potosi, Mo., his family isn’t able to get internet or strong cell phone service, and video games were a way to stay entertained and out of trouble when he was growing up. One of his favorite memories as a kid was staying up late with his brother and playing video games all night.
“My mom would always come upstairs and sneak up on me and my brother playing at three in the morning,” Bourbon said. “She would always scare us because we would be zoned in on the TV and focused on the game. We were never expecting it.”
Today, Bourbon enjoys gaming with Heeney along with sophomore linebacker, Michael Zunica. Bourbon said that he shares the enjoyment of video games with Zunica the most.
“All spring I would stay up and play ‘Far Cry’ with Michael,” Bourbon recalled. “That was a regular thing for the two of us. We would stay up all night one night playing, and then sleep the next, just so we could manage it. That was all spring, until we beat it, and then we were back to normal.”
Bourbon believes he is able to make connections from his video game playing to his real life. He thinks that he is a more strategic person thanks to video games and is better at thinking critically about tough situations.
“I think there are a lot of ways people can relate video games to real life,” Bourbon said. “When I was younger, I felt like my vocabulary was more advanced compared to my friends’ because I played video games. For instance, I learned the word ‘summon’ from playing a game. I used it one time in third grade and none of my friends knew what it meant. Aside from that, the problem-solving aspect of video games has been helpful to me. It enhances my critical thinking and helps me become better at strategizing and solving problems.”
While Bourbon does enjoy playing games as a hobby, he doesn’t let it interfere with the responsibilities he has to the Jayhawk football team. Battling injuries last season kept Bourbon from making a true impact on the team, something he is trying to accomplish this year.
“I know Coach (Reggie) Mitchell, who has been my position coach since I got here, expects me to be a leader,” Bourbon said. “He has expected me to be one since I became a member of the team. It’s hard to do that when I’m not playing or when I don’t have a significant role in the games because no matter what type of example I set, I’m not the guy out there on the field making the play. Now that I am able to play more, I think it has allowed me to expand my leadership.”
Heeney agrees that this is the year for Bourbon to really step out and accomplish what he wants to get done.
“He’s been hurt a lot in previous years, so he’s coming out of that hopefully for good this season,” Heeney said. “His role has been really increasing recently, and I know he’s a play-maker. The coaches are really looking to him this season to be a leader and hold some responsibility.”
There are improvements that Bourbon is looking to make in regards to his personal game as well. He said that he could always put more time into learning more about the opponents
“It’s hard to learn a lot about how the opponent plays when we have such a short turnaround from week to week, but I can always put more work into that,” Bourbon said.
This season has brought Bourbon many opportunities that will allow him to increase his role on the Kansas football team. Bourbon is able to bond with some of his teammates that share the enjoyment of playing video games, and it is a way for him to better focus on the sport he loves.