The fun factor is alive and well at Roos Field.
It may end with wild finishes and fake field goals, but it starts with the Eastern Washington players – especially the seniors. A smile, a locker-room joke or a tip to a struggling freshman goes a long way toward winning on Saturdays.
So does a little whimsy. Kendrick Bourne’s hair is brightly dyed in Eagle red; every year the hairstyle is bigger and bolder, to match the senior receiver’s outsized personality.
“I do like to change it up,” laughs Bourne. His smile is as dazzling as his stats, which would make him the top wide receiver for almost any Big Sky Conference team – except Eastern.
And while he’s spent much of his career in the shadow of All-America receiver Cooper Kupp, you wouldn’t know it. Bourne has become one of the top receivers in the nation; last year he had 998 receiving yards – fourth best in the conference and 15th in the nation.
“Kendrick is a high-energy guy that everybody likes,” said Eastern receivers coach Nicholas Edwards. “Every day you just feel happy because of his personality, and he’s the kind of kid you’re happy for when he has success.”
Success was elusive during Bourne’s youth, which was spent in the tough neighborhoods of northeast Portland. “My grades weren’t very good and I wasn’t focused on the right things … and I was doing things I shouldn’t be doing,” he said.
His life changed when his parents sent him to a charter school in the suburbs. The daily 15-minute bus ride put Bourne on the right path and turned his fantasies of college into reality.
A two-sport star – Bourne led his Milwaukie basketball team to the state title game – he considered football offers from Montana, Idaho State and Portland State while he visited Eastern.
Even as Eastern fell to Sam Houston State in the FCS semifinals in 2012, Bourne liked what he saw in the Eagles’ wide-open offense.
“I told myself, ‘this is a program I want to be a part of,’ ” said Bourne, who at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds still looks more like a basketball player.
Bourne hit the ground running as an 18-year-old true freshman in the fall of 2013. He was on special teams as the Eagles knocked off Oregon State in the season opener.
“It was an amazing feeling watching that,” said Bourne, whose only regret was not having a firm grasp on the playbook.
“I kind of regret not being ready, because you never know when your time is going to come,” Bourne said.
Bourne’s time came swiftly: seven catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns in 2013, followed by a breakout sophomore season that began with eight catches for 114 yards in a 59-52 loss at Washington.
By the end of the year, Bourne had 52 catches for 814 yards, 10 scores and was an honorable mention Big Sky pick.
Said Edwards, “He’s a guy who wants to learn and wants to get better.”
Returning the compliment, Bourne credits Edwards and other former EWU receivers Brandon Kaufman and Greg Herd for passing the torch of excellence.
From Kupp he’s learned the work ethic “that has pushed me to work harder.”
“It’s great to see him work – it’s brushed off on all of us,” said Bourne, who tries to bolster the younger players – and not just the receivers
“I tell them to be patient – we all think we’re going to play right away,” Bourne said.
Meanwhile, Bourne’s career is only getting better. Last year he was second-team all-Big Sky after catching 73 balls for 998 yards – fourth most in the conference – and eight touchdowns. In the Big Sky opener at Sacramento State, he had a career-high 204 yards that included a game-changing 98-yard touchdown catch.
A week later, his 25-yard TD catch was the difference in a 42-41 overtime win over Cal Poly.
“Kendrick is on another level,” Edwards said. “He’s up there with the top receivers in the Big Sky.”
And for now, he’s the leading receiver at Eastern. Through three games, Bourne has 25 catches for 372 yards and one score.
“Everybody is stepping up,” said Bourne, who along with Stu Stiles and Shaq Hill have compensated for the shoulder injury that has sidelined Kupp since midway through the North Dakota State game on Sept. 10.
“As long as they get us the ball, we’ll be fine,” Bourne said with a big smile.
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