SANTA CLARA -- Stress can create a myriad of problems physically and emotionally for people, sometimes so powerful that it can lead to a severe lack of productivity or even depression.
For Kendrick Bourne, stress has the complete opposite effect. It makes him the dancing, smiling, ebullient player you see on the field and in all of his social media posts. Football is his release. The field is where he can let go of the stress of being a father of two and the familial and financial responsibilities of everyday life.
Bourne, a former undrafted wide receiver has made his biggest leap in production yet in his third season with the 49ers, most noticeably as a reliable red zone target. He has caught five touchdown passes in the past six games and has become a playmaker for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers offense.
It hasn’t all been easy for Bourne, who has admitted receiving some tough love from his head coach. More than once, it has involved words that wouldn’t make it past censors. When asked about cussing out the third-year pro, a sly smile swept across Kyle Shanahan’s face. Bourne's mood is consistently so joyous that it took some time for his coach to get used to it.
“Bourne is a funny guy," Shanahan said. "He reminds me a lot of my son."
Who’s how old?
“Uhhh ... nine,” Shanahan replied, still smiling. “I don’t mean that as an insult, kind of. I’m good with Bourne so he should be alright on it. When you sit there and get on him, he still sits there and smiles at you. And at first, it used to drive me crazy because it’s like, ‘Are you not bothered by it?’ He is.
“He’s trying his hardest, he’s trying to go out there. He really loves to play football. I think you guys can see how he plays and sometimes I think that can get taken the wrong way in terms of he’s not locked in and detailed on it, and he is.”
Bourne understands that Shanahan’s intentions are all good. The Eastern Washington product actually believes that without it, there might be something wrong. The smiles while getting harsh criticism, again counter balancing the stress.
No cap that first play on here I messed up at practice, and Kyle cussed me out lol 😂 glad it happened cause, we got the same defensive look that was drawn up at practice for our look team! That’s what practice is for! 🙌🏽🙌🏽 https://t.co/M8Iaj8A4Qx— Kendrick Bourne Poly (@BournePoly11) December 9, 2019
“Just knowing how to take coaching of course,” Bourne said, explaining his perennial happiness. “Knowing it’s all for a good reason. I feel like if a coach wouldn’t cuss me out or get on me about something, then that’s a bad sign.
"Every time he comes and gets on me I know it’s to benefit me in whatever situation I’m going to see.”
Shanahan believes that while Bourne’s youthful love for the game can occasionally be the root of a mistake or two on the field, it might benefit him in other situations. Where some players can choke when on the biggest stage, Bourne might not even realize the gravity of the situation.
“I think it’s kind of his gift and his curse,” Shanahan said. “It’s also why he’s never freaking out out there, either. I mean, he is loose and the game is not too big for him, no matter what the situation is. Sometimes I’m like, I’m glad he doesn’t know how big this moment is because he looks fearless as can be.”
Garoppolo believes football is not only a release for Bourne, but that the wide receiver has an uncanny ability to dial in his attention at the right moments.
“I’ll tell you, when we were in the Superdome, loudest moments of the game, he was as locked in as anybody,” Garoppolo said. “He has that ability to hit the switch and he knows when to lock in, when to enjoy himself and when he scores touchdowns, obviously, he enjoys himself.
"He knows his role and he knows what it takes to get it done.”
One of the more cerebral players, Harvard graduate Kyle Juszczyk, agrees with his quarterback and coach. The veteran fullback also believes that Bourne is one of the reasons why the locker room remains so positive, no matter the situation they are facing.
“It’s incredible positive energy that’s infectious and it rubs off on everyone else," Juszczyk said. “It keeps things up and keeps things loose. I think the difference you’ve seen this year is his attention to detail in his own game.
"Yes, he may be goofing around but he’s still very locked in.”
Shanahan has seen enough to know how Bourne will respond to his criticism, which has led to trusting him during key third down and scoring situations. While he doesn’t make it habit to have these “discussions” with his players, he at least knows with Bourne it will only need to happen once.
“You’ve got to deal with that stuff a lot, but sometimes you’ve got to make a point,” Shanahan said. “And if you really want him to lock in, sometimes you’ve got to make it a little bit personal and usually then he locks in, still with a smile, which I’ve gotten used to.
"But usually they remember those and I only have to do it a couple times. Usually when you do, he doesn’t forget about it.”
Bourne definitely does not forget. The first time he fell victim to a tongue lashing from Shanahan was during his rookie year after the undrafted free agent missed a meeting and thought he might be out of a job.
Over the past three seasons, Bourne has told the story at least a dozen times, all of course while smiling.