Kendrick Bourne spreads power of mentorship in first year with Patriots

PLYMOUTH, Mass. -- Spend time with New England Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne and one of the first questions might be, "Is he ever not in a good mood?"

It is a rainy, cold morning at the Pinehills Golf Course in Plymouth, and Bourne just took his first tee shot -- Nicklaus Course, par-3, third hole. The divot and flying tee command as much attention as his ball that tails off to the right, and yet Bourne can't stop laughing and smiling.

He is a happy-go-lucky personality who seems to have a true appreciation for what he has -- his first big NFL payday, a three-year, $15 million contract that could be worth as much as $22.5 million with New England, where he is expected to open training camp as one of the top three receivers.

Bourne is also forever appreciative of the power of mentorship. Without it, he surmises he never would have attended Eastern Washington University -- or any college, for that matter. Thus, there would be no time in the NFL, where he spent the first four years of his career from 2017 to 2020 with the San Francisco 49ers.

This is what brings Bourne to the soggy, sparkling golf course, as he has partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts to serve as an honorary board member and quasi spokesperson. The nonprofit organization was holding its annual golf tournament last Thursday -- perfect timing as it came on a day off during the Patriots' voluntary offseason practices.

One of Bourne's primary mentors was Don Johnson, his football coach at Milwaukie Academy of the Arts, a charter school outside of Portland, Oregon.

"He was just definitely there at a prime time in my life, the make-or-break time," Bourne told ESPN.com. "High school days when I think I know everything, think I've got it all figured out."

Bourne, 25, grew up in a part of Portland with a high rate of crime and prevalent gang activity.

Johnson, who now serves as director of player personnel for the University of Oregon football program, saw his student-athlete heading down the wrong path. When Bourne could have been at the football field working on his craft, Johnson would instead see him at the local mall or Holladay Park, distinguishable by the Louis Vuitton bag in his grasp or sagging pants.

"He was an inner-city kid who got with the wrong crowd," Johnson explained to ESPN.com. "He reminded me of Bird in the [1986] movie 'Wildcats.' He might open his bag and have 10 different watches to sell you instead of a football and gloves in it. But when he put the bag down and wasn't selling anything and came on the field, there wasn't anyone that could guard him."

Johnson took a no-nonsense approach with Bourne.

"He really just helped me make the right [decisions] -- being in class, doing my work, being at practice on time," Bourne said. "I was kind of scared of him, intimidated by him. I wanted to do right by him because he was trying to help me, wanted him to accept me. As I started to do better and better, he just kept testing me."

Johnson never let up.

"I revved it up to 10 on him," the coach said. "He redirected his life. He went from being a real street kid who could have went the wrong way to the personality and the smile of every locker room he's ever been in.

"Seeing him now, it's a guy who really comes from it and really understands. He grew up in elementary schools and junior highs that were predominantly Black. There was a lot of gang activity and other things like that, and Kendrick was never scared to be part of the scene.

"He kind of had a 'Remember the Titans' experience in high school with being on a very racially mixed team after coming from the inner city. He's just the best locker room guy ever, has the biggest heart of any human I've ever met, really cares. Kendrick could go to a rap concert or a Garth Brooks concert and have the same fun."

In part because of the role Johnson played in his life, Bourne is now hoping to use his NFL platform to encourage mentoring matches, referred to as Bigs and Littles, throughout the year.

He figures it's also a nice way for the New England community to get to know him.

"I want to start my name right," Bourne said. "I feel like I'm a good mentor, with authentic stories I can help the youth with, so that's the biggest thing."

His willingness to do so is welcome news to Mark O'Donnell, the president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts.

"When I first spoke with Kendrick, it was, 'Does this mission mean anything to you?'" O'Donnell said. "He said, 'Absolutely. I believe in this and think everyone needs as many mentors in their life as possible. Positive role models, and I want to be a positive role model in this community.' He just came in wholeheartedly."

Johnson isn't surprised. He said the entire Bourne family -- mom Luica, dad Eric and brothers Andrew and Evan -- all lead with their heart, such as opening their home to others in Portland.

"I wouldn't expect anything less," Johnson said. "He's about keeping kids away from the person he was before. He's about changing lives.

"He's going to love to dress up and look the best, and have fun and smile, but at the same time, he'd give the shirt off his back for someone who is homeless or had a bad situation. My goal was to make a man out of him, and he's more than a man now. It's crazy how much he has grown, not only as a great person, but as a great father, and a great community leader."