A.J. Bouye often makes little markings in the books he reads. Notes that show what he was thinking while he was making his way through page after page.
The notes he leaves are for more than just himself. They are left behind for his two daughters, Zoe, 6, and Rhyan, 1, so that when they are old enough to read, they will know what he was thinking as he passed through the pages.
Reading is an important hobby to the Carolina Panthers cornerback. It’s been a part of his life since he was little but transformed into something more meaningful as he became a professional football player.
Bouye, who turns 30 on Aug. 16, finds himself as one of the key veterans in a revised cornerback room for the Panthers after signing a two-year, $7 million deal.
Jaycee Horn, the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft, makes a point of sitting near Bouye in meetings or when watching film to pick up notes.
“When I got drafted by the Panthers, (playing with Bouye) was the first thing that I thought about,” said Horn said, who shares the same Atlanta-based trainer as Bouye.
Bouye has had success in the NFL after going undrafted out of UCF in 2013. He made a Pro Bowl in 2017, the same season he helped the Jacksonville Jaguars reach the AFC Championship game.
Most recently, injuries helped derail his time the Denver Broncos. His 2020 season officially ended with a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. That penalty extends to the first two games of the upcoming season versus the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints.
Bouye has been part of the Panthers’ first-team defense through the first week of training camp, and as Carolina invests in younger cornerbacks — four draft picks over the last two years — having a player who has been through a variety of experiences in the NFL is an advantage.
“I’m always playing my best when I’m thinking about the team, that’s always been me. The rest will come,” Bouye said. “I’ve had that before; other teams, people get caught up in their individual success and it doesn’t work out for everybody else. I’ve learned from guys like (defensive end) Calais Campbell, who just was the team guy, he wasn’t worried about everything else, but he still got those accolades.”
His love of self-help books and autobiographies have aided him in stepping into those shoes, although he first developed his love for books from being forced to read.
“I’ve always been into reading. I think at an early age, which kind of sucks, but my dad was big on when I’m on punishment, he took my TV always, so all I had was books,” Bouye, a Georgia native, said. “I was reading a lot of Harry Potter books, I probably read every one. “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” … Probably once I got to the NFL, I had more time outside of school, I started focusing on things like self-help books, autobiographies, and things like that.”
Bouye has a close bond with his father, Steve, who was a correctional officer. His punishments forced his son to learn how to be productive on his own.
Now, as a ninth-year pro, he tries to read at least a chapter a day and begins to start a new book once he gets down to the last chapter or two. Bouye said he has a Kindle, but likes to travel with physical books. If he gets especially invested in one book, he will study it for as long as two months.
“I’m a firm believer (that) you can find a lot of things — wisdom — in books, and especially in this day and age with social media, YouTube, we could get caught up in things that we don’t really need to pay attention to,” Bouye said. “Also, on top of that, when I’m reading, I feel like I’m also kind of watching TV. In my mind, I’m picturing everything that they’re talking about in the book. I’m being in my own little world when I’m reading.”
He’ll share some of that world on Instagram, however, because he wants to use his platform to “influence people to learn on their own.” Bouye will also sometimes recommend books to teammates.
The Observer asked him to share some of his favorites and what that they have meant to him.
Bouye’s reading list:
“My favorite right now I would say is probably ‘The Alchemist.’ It’s just really about saying how you can create anything with your mind, that’s what I took out of it. It’s a fiction book, but it has life principles in it that I live by. That’s one I probably read like four times.”
“That’s a pretty good book. It’s about life and second chances and just principles.”
Recommendations for younger teammates, learning about leadership:
“When I got to the league, it was really focusing on mental things, things that I could kind of carry going into the workplace. ... But now, I always pick up a book, and then I have some family members and my cousin, who’s basically like my brother, he always suggests books to me, because he’s probably just as much of a reader as me. We kind of just trade books in our circle and talk about them.”
“I think (one) of the biggest things I’ve learned (from self-help books) is my purpose, knowing to serve and things like that. How to be a better person, not for me, but for everybody who’s in my circle or who I’m dealing with on a daily basis. And leadership qualities. You’re only as good as the people around you, so how can I influence people to be better than what they are?”
“Mind Gym and Inner Excellence is really about athletes and just core principles, but you could use those principles as a salesperson, a businessman, things like that.”
Recommendations For kids:
▪ Any Dr. Seuss book
“My daughter loves to be on the iPad. I tell her, ‘before you get on an iPad in the morning, I need you to read one book, whether it’s a Dr. Seuss, or one of the children’s books,’ ”
“You probably read something, but in your mind, you’re like, ‘Oh, Violet or Klaus did this.’ You could relate to that ... that’s how I kind of was at an early age. I always fantasized to be like, ‘well, these (people) went through this, so I could do it, too. I think that’s what younger kids can get out of this. If they’re reading, you’re going into your own world. A lot of these movies that are great, they come from books.”
Other noteworthy reads