When Ken was in junior high school, his junior high coach, Ricky Sykes, noticed something special about Ken. "The first person who told me that I was going to play pro ball was my junior high coach, Ricky Sykes. He told me that I had a love and passion for the game, but that I just didn't have any talent. He said that if anybody on this team would make it, I would. Of all the things people have told me, I will never forget what he said that day. It was in August. We were taking pictures for the local newspaper. The lady was taking pictures and when she got ready to take mine, he stopped and pointed to me and told all the other kids if any of them goes pro, I would be the one. And I wasn't even starting. I still remember exactly what he said. It meant a lot to me that he had so much faith in me that he would say that."
Even though Coach Sykes saw the athletic potential in Ken, he was still far from being the player Coach Sykes predicted he might someday become.
According to Lawrence County High School assistant coach Craig Davis, Ken was a, "lanky, skinny kid who was mainly a bench-warmer." Ken agreed with that assessment. "Yes, that was exactly what I was. I started my 9th grade year on the freshman squad. I was real small. I was, basically, just tall."
Then, during the latter part of his 10th grade season, something happened. Ken started gaining weight and became more athletic. "Mid-season, during my sophomore year, I gained about 20 pounds. We worked out a little during the season but it couldn't have come from that because you don't just gain 20 pounds that quickly from working out."
Craig Davis, who had previously seen nothing more than a kid who loved the game but did not yet have the talent to play it, saw something happening and mentioned it to Ken. "One of my football coaches, Craig Davis, was another coach that made a prediction about me. He said, 'within a year this kid is going to be big, body-wise and playing-wise'."
Coach Davis was right and the transformation from no-talent bench-warmer with a passion for the game to elite athlete had begun.
According to Ken, "I gained the weight and (my coaches) put me in at defensive end at the end of a game. I was in for two series and got about 5 or 6 tackles. The next week, they started me. I made 12 tackles and 3 sacks. We had one more game to go that season and I recorded 13 tackles and 2 sacks. That was at the end of my 10th grade year."
The coaches now knew they had a special player in Ken but a change was about to take place. A new head coach was hired and a new position was in order. "After that season we got a new coach, Danny Adams. He worked me real hard during the summer and I gained 20 more pounds. That put me at 240. He tried me at linebacker and I had never played it before. He, basically, broke it down for me and told me it's not that hard. All I had to do was learn my reads."
And Coach Adams was right about Ken. Now a 240-pound middle linebacker, Ken showed even more improvement the next season, his 11th grade year. "I think I had like 115 tackles. I knew I could play middle linebacker but I didn't know if it was my natural position."
Although he and his team had a good season -- Lawrence County made it to the playoffs but lost in the first round -- Ken knew there was still room for improvement and did something about it. "We started working out immediately after we lost in the first round of the playoffs. I didn't gain anymore weight but I lost almost all of my fat. I got my forty down to the low 4.7's to high 4.6's. I was benching about 380 and squatting 600."
Natural position or not, Ken continued to improve as a middle linebacker and his team benefited from the improvement.
With about 150 total tackles his senior season, Ken was selected all-state and helped lead his team to the State Championship. "My senior year we defeated Clarksdale to win the State. We went 14-0."
Success brings attention. And in high school ball, attention, in the cases of the good athletes, means receiving recruiting attention by college coaches. While Ken was recruited, he had spent so much time trying to improve as an athlete, he didn't do what was necessary when it came to making the required ACT score.
"Mississippi State recruited me in high school until they found out about my ACT score," said Ken. "A bunch of D-2 schools also recruited me."
With a low ACT causing D-I schools to back off, Ken almost signed with Troy State but he felt it just wasn't the right thing for him to do so he decided to attend Co-Lin Community College.
Ken, who had been such a hard worker the past few seasons, let himself baloon up to 285 pounds after the end of his senior season. Most of that added weight was due to taking time off while being recruited. It just about cost him his middle linebacker position when he arrived at Co-Lin. "They weren't going to let me play linebacker, but I ran my forty in 4.76 seconds," Ken said. "The Co-Lin coaches decided they would let me play, but I didn't start the first five games. Then, one of our linebackers went down. I got in and had 10 tackles that game. I started the next game and had 15 tackles. During the five games that I started, I averaged about 13 tackles a game. I had lost a little weight and was at about 270."
Learning from his earlier mistake of not working out very hard during the off-season, Ken and his coaches made sure he would be ready for his sophomore year at Co-Lin. "During the off-season, they ran me every day. I didn't complain. I got down to about 260. Over the course of this past summer, I ran on my own and lost another 10 pounds. I was down to about 250 and played this past season at that weight." He also was now benching 425 pounds and squatting 620 pounds.
The old Ken Bournes was back and his stats showed it. "We played 9 games and I had about 115 tackles, 7 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 6 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries," Ken said with obvious pride in his voice. "I made all-region and all-state." He was also selected to The Clarion-Ledger's top 25 Mississippi junior college players list as the number 4 selection.
Not only did he receive those honors, but he also received an even higher honor: JCFootball.com chose him to their top 101 national junior college list as the 20th best player in the nation.
And once again colleges started coming around. Schools that are recruiting Ken include the likes of South Carolina, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Memphis, USM, University of Central Florida, University of South Florida and a host of other schools to numerous too mention.
Ken, not one to sit idly by, has already begun to take his official visits. "I've taken two official visits, South Carolina and Memphis, in December."
He also has in mind what other schools he will visit. "I've set up visits with Mississippi State on (Jan.) 5th and Ole Miss on (Jan.) 11th."
Ken talked about his interest in Mississippi State and sounded just a bit confused as to the interest State has in him. "I haven't talked to Coach (Glenn) Davis from State in a long time. I don't want to drive up there if they aren't still interested in me."
He also talked about the depth Mississippi State has at linebacker. "The only thing I worry about with State is their depth. I played with State's Kamau Jackson and he is still up there and I know he is coming back. And he is just one of the many linebackers they have. I want to go somewhere where I can play."
However, he has not ruled State out entirely because he has the January 5th official visit still set up.
With depth at linebacker an important factor in his decision as to what school he will sign with, Ken talked about the two schools that he felt would give him the best opportunity to play early, Memphis and Ole Miss. "(Memphis) is losing their starting middle linebacker and their depth is not deep. Plus, they have about 18 of their 22 starters back. I went to a couple of (Ole Miss') games and I know they need help. Me playing wouldn't be a problem."
Ken mentioned other reasons he has these two schools, as he said, "tied for first. Those two schools have been recruiting me since the spring of last year. I have been able to develop a relationship with the coaches. I took a visit to Memphis about two weekends ago and got the chance to see their campus and meet some of their players. It is in Conference USA and the way I feel about it is if I decide to not play in the SEC, I can go to Memphis and be an impact player for them. (Ole Miss) Coach Cutcliffe came down and talked to my family. There was something that clicked while I was listening to him talk. For some reason, I got excited and there are not that many coaches that I have talked to that get me excited. He made me feel like I just belonged up there."
Now this youngster who wants to teach History and coach high school ball some day has one final decision to make and that is what school will be the lucky winner of his signature on February 6th, 2002.
Whoever does sign him will not only will get a great player but an even better person.
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. You can contact him by email at email@example.com.