A year after the tragic news of former Kansas football running back Brandon Bourbon’s death emerged, his friend and KU teammate Ben Heeney is making sure as many people as possible hear Bourbon’s story.
Heeney, Bourbon’s college roommate and now a linebacker with the Oakland Raiders, re-lived some of his favorite memories of Bourbon in a feature for The Players’ Tribune titled, “Life and Death.”
In the piece, Heeney details not only the fun moments he and Bourbon experienced together in Lawrence, but also a detailed, heartbreaking account of how he wanted to help a friend he could tell was in need, not knowing at the time Bourbon soon would take his own life.
Reflecting on their time together, Heeney says on The Players’ Tribune he sees now that at some point Bourbon reached a point where he determined life lacked the meaning it once held for him. So Heeney hopes to make sure his friend’s life still can have an impact.
“I want to help educate people. I want to talk to people who are having thoughts like Brandon had, and to let them know that there’s another chapter for them, and that they need to be here to write it,” Heeney shared. “That their story isn’t over. I want to have the conversation with them that I wish I’d had with Brandon.
“But I also want to talk to people who are close to those who might be suffering,” he added, “to let them know that there are signs to look out for, and to tell them the proper way to acknowledge them and address them.”
— Read Heeney’s entire feature for The Players’ Tribune: Life and Death
Though Bourbon’s story is a sad one, Heeney’s desire is that it will help save someone else’s life.
On Monday, Heeney posted several old photos of him and his buddy, remembering April 3, 2016, as the last day the two spoke.
“It hurts so much knowing that you could still be here with us today,” Heeney wrote on Instagram. “Looking back now, I can see some signs, but when the signs were right there in front of me I was blind. Blinded by your confidence, your resilience, your strength. See it's the strongest people who hide it so well. Never in a million years did I think you were struggling everyday. Never in a million years did I think you didn't want to be here anymore. I wish I would have recognized the signs and been there for you. I wish you would have opened up to me and told me your struggles so we could get through them together... I will NEVER stop telling your story. I will NEVER let anyone forget your name. Because I know you would do the same for me. I love you and miss you every single second of every single day bro. We will continue to spread your message and continue to raise depression awareness so hopefully nobody else ever has to feel as alone as you did. You are with me always — and like you told me that last day we were together, "see you soon."
Spring break is over at Kansas University, and the football team got back to spring practice Sunday night.
Coach Charlie Weis spoke about the team's progress up to this point Tuesday at Anderson Family Football Complex, before the team's afternoon practice.
Listen to audio from the Q & A by clicking here: Weis updates progress of spring football
Here are some of the highlights, in bullet-point form:
• Coming back from spring break, Weis was pleased with the tempo at Sunday night's practice. Usually guys get into a routine and thats how you thrive. They had a week off and guys traveled all over the place, but everyone was here. They met and practiced until 10 at night. As far as the practice itself, it wasn't the sharpest at all times. And the offense had its best practice yet. Putting in a new offense against a more experienced defense, the defense had been ahead of the offense this spring. That changed at Sunday's practice. Clint Bowen is calling this "not positive Tuesday" after the defense got burned too many times.
• There has been clear separation amongst multiple quarterbacks this spring. Both the players and coaches see where that is but they're not going to come out and say that at this point. Today, for a good portion of practice, Heaps won't get any reps. That will force everyone's hands. The other players won't have that security blanket of the most experienced QB in the system being there. … The separation is solely based off performance. They've taken things like experience and thrown them out the window. A lot of it comes at the line of scrimmage. Quarterback and everyone else are looking for a signal from the sideline.
• Weis spent a lot of time on two days during spring break watching the scrimmage from before break in detail. On Sunday he talked with the coaches and told them what he saw on video, and asked where he was right and where he was wrong. On video, there is a lot with which to be pleased. But Weis didn't want the defense to feel good about itself because it was ahead of the offense. On Sunday the offense ran some plays to exploit some defensive vulnerabilities.
• Senior Jake Heaps is one of the leading candidates at QB. Because he is the most experienced, you would expect him to run the offense better than everyone else. Taking him out of the equation at Tuesday's puts more pressure on the other quarterbacks. The coaches want to see how each candidate responds. It's just as if someone got injured. Weis wanted to do that to create more pressure in the QB competition. When you're trying to see five players, it's hard to get everyone enough reps.
• Weis is letting the offensive staff put in the offense. Weis knows the system and the plays, but there are things in the system that need to be executed. They want to make sure they're not only installing plays but also executing before they get ahead of themselves.
• Senior Brandon Bourbon has transitioned back into a running back-only position. That has helped them tremendously at the position. … When personnel groupings are called out at practice, guys know now who is in what group, even if there isn't a physical depth chart for everyone to see.
• Senior receiver Tony Pierson has seen a little bit of contact at practices. Weis "isn't stupid enough" to let Pierson go through practices without getting hit. He got hit and came off the field and told Weis that was the best thing that has happened to him.
• At wide receiver, they could talk about senior transfer Nick Harwell. But the guy who has had a good spring — the best camp of anyone on offense, in fact — is junior Rodriguez Coleman. They're throwing the ball to him a lot. The defense focuses in on Pierson and Harwell. Coleman gets a lot of one-on-one because of that. If you don't have anyone who is getting open on the single receiver side, that's a problem. Coleman is getting open.
• Junior Kevin Short is playing at corner in practices. Both senior Dexter McDonald and senior JeCorey Shepherd are pretty good players at corner. Now they can put all three of those guys out on the field at once.
• Sophomore defensive back Greg Allen might be the most pleasant surprise on defense.
• Freshman tight end Ben Johnson has been getting a lot of reps. He's ready, willing and able, even though he hasn't played yet. He did a nice job on the show team while red-shirting last season, but now he's with the big boys. He really seems to get better at every practice, and that's because he is gaining confidence.
• With installing a new offense, they don't want to go too fast. If they have a bunch of plays, and they're not good at any of them, there is no growth. Now when they start to run certain plays, they can expect production. When they're on the field, they're on the clock. They've only got four hours on a practice day to work with the players. On the off days, coaches figure out how much installation they need, and how much repetition they need.
• On the offensive line right now, there are about eight players they think they could go into a game and win with right now. They would like that number to be 10. Going into the season you want a backup at each position. At most of the positions right now, there is a clear No. 1 and a clear No. 2. Not all positions, but most.
• Sophomore QB TJ Millweard is very sharp, mentally. He went through a year of not playing as a transfer. He has knocked off a lot of that rust. Mentally, he could go run the KU offense right now. Physically, he will have to prove he can do so.
• On defense, you can tell there are a lot of seniors. On offense, there are a lot of guys who weren't playing last season for KU. With the production they have had in the passing game the past two seasons, that might be a good thing. KU might be thin at a few positions on offense, but their front-line players are good enough to win with.
• Weis expects guys to come back in the spring strong and ready to play because of strength coach Scott Holsopple. He knows the line between caring for them and pushing them. He's the true "love-hate" coach. Holsopple has a lot more access to the players than anyone on the football staff. He has been critical to the team's development.
• On the defensive line, junior college DE Kapil Fletcher, walking through the door, should be more ready than high school players. There is a "fearsome foursome" of freshmen coming in. Weis just said this morning, "Let's not rule anybody out." They don't know until they get here whether they are ready for prime time. Weis tells every player coming in there is no reason to assume they will have to red-shirt. They have a chance to work themselves in on the two-deep.
• Senior WR Justin McCay is right behind Coleman right now. McCay had his best practice on Sunday. He plays a different style than Coleman, and he needs to use that to his advantage.
• Heaps hasn't changed one bit. That's one of the biggest things you could say about this guy. He's got great leadership on top of everything else. He's excited with the newness of the spring and the offense. With the lack of production last season, there is reason for him to be excited about a new system.
• Senior LB Ben Heeney has been great at practices, working his butt off. He is clearly one of, if not the leader, of the defense.
• They just met as a staff yesterday about recruiting. Weis went through about 30 guys who the staff wanted to offer. … Weis doesn't offer now until they get a transcript in. Weis wants to know the odds of a player graduating are very high. There are reasons guys don't get offered other than what kind of skills they possess.