Dominic Rufran only plays video games with Cordell.
Once a week, the junior Wyoming wide receiver dusts off his X Box and plays with his little brother, laughing and chatting in between games. Occasionally, they’ll go to a movie or throw around a football.
Of course, Cordell isn’t actually Dominic’s little brother; but for a few hours every week, the title hardly matters.
A little more than a year ago, Rufran began volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of greater Wyoming, a program that matches kids facing adversity with an elder who can serve as a mentor. Rufran was matched with Cordell Perez, a 12-year-old who loves football and lives in Laramie.
At first, Cordell was shy. It took time, as one would expect, for the two to adjust to each other and a relationship to form. Plus, Rufran wasn’t the Wyoming football player who Cordell always wanted to talk about.
That honor went to his roommate.
“It’s funny because before he started playing football this past year, he was always saying, ‘I want to play quarterback. I want to be just like Brett,’” Rufran said with a laugh. “His grandpa always liked the way Brett [Smith] played as well.”
But as the months wore on, Dominic and Cordell grew steadily closer. Cordell and his mother, Kathy Brown, sat inside War Memorial Stadium on Nov. 3, 2012, a chilly late fall afternoon, and watched his big brother haul in a 3-yard touchdown pass in the Cowboys’ 45-31 win over Colorado State.
“Dang, I didn’t realize you were that fast,” Cordell told Rufran after the game.
With Perez’s mother and father separated, Cordell only sees his dad once or twice a week. Rufran has become an integral person in his life.
“It’s been a good program for Cordell. He really enjoys spending time with Dominic,” Brown said. “We got involved with it so Cordell has somebody that he can look up to and spend time with.”
Rufran got involved because he knows the impact a father figure can have on a young boy. He was always very close with his father, Michael Rufran, and he wanted to be able to provide that stability and support to another kid who wasn’t put in the same situation.
“It’s absolutely huge,” he said. “Because I know growing up, you look up to someone else as a role model because you haven’t experienced so many things. It’s critical, I think, for a person to be successful and live a positive life, to have someone who’s been there for them.”
Rufran, for roughly a year now, has been there for Cordell. He’s busy with football, of course, but he always finds time to break out the X Box. And according to his advisors at Big Brothers Big Sisters, that’s what separates him from other high-profile volunteers they’ve had.
“He’s incredibly busy with his football schedule. What he’s really good with is involving the kid in his life,” Chris Macduff, the match support specialist who handles Rufran’s case, said. “That’s been one of the best things about him. Despite everything that’s going on in his life, he still manages to fit him in.”
Take a glance at Rufran’s weekly schedule, and you’ll barely find a free minute to study or take a breath, let alone spend time with a 12-year-old that has become a significant part of your life.
But Rufran manages. He recognizes what’s most important, and he makes time for it.
“It’s definitely tough to add extra things like that in. But you have to put things in perspective. There’s a lot bigger things out there than football,” Rufran said. “I think one of the biggest things in life that God wants us to do is impact another person’s life and make them smile.
“At the end of the day, I realize that giving back is more important than a lot of things I do in my life, so I have to make it a priority.”
So for a couple hours each week, Rufran can most likely be found sprawled out on a couch in his house, playing video games with Cordell. From one angle, it doesn’t look like all that significant an activity.
From another, it’s a bond that grows stronger every week.
“It’s pretty cool. I don’t play video games by myself anymore, but when he comes over, that’s my excuse to play video games,” Rufran said with a guilty smile. “He was really shy when we first met, but now he loves to talk. You can’t get him to be quiet.”
Wyoming football fans value Rufran’s on-field production, and rightfully so. He leads his team with 25 catches, 268 receiving yards and four touchdowns heading into the game against Air Force near his hometown of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Saturday.
Ask his roommate, though, and he’ll tell you those aren’t the actions that matter.
“Helping Cordell and bringing him around the house, all that stuff is way more important than what he does on the field,” Smith said. “That’s just who he is.”
And that’s who Rufran will continue to be. On Saturday night, he and his brothers on the football team will take the field in front of his family and friends, packed inside Falcon Stadium to watch him play.
Another one of his brothers -- not by blood, but a brother still -- will be back home in Laramie.
“In his life personally, Cordell doesn’t really have a father figure that he hangs out with,” Rufran said. “So it’s just nice to know that someone can come into his life and definitely be a role model.”
That can mean any number of things -- talking about life and football, heading to a movie theater for a matinee show, and most often, a simple video game and hours of laughter on a weekday afternoon.
Rufran knows that Cordell doesn’t have an X Box at home, so if that’s all he wants to do with their time together, he doesn’t mind.
The time spent with Cordell, not the activity, is what really counts.
“So be it,” the junior receiver said with a wide grin. “If it’s time to hang out with me, he can use me for the X Box all he wants.”