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Bulcke balances life as FanTravel founder, CFL player

Brian Bulcke ’10 M.S. ‘11 is having a hard time feeling much different than he did as a student-athlete at Stanford.

Brian Bulcke '10 M.S. '11 (center) co-founded FanTravel with former Cardinal teammate Alex Loukas '10 M.A. '11, but he still balances entrepreneurship with life as a Canadian Football League player. (Courtesy of David Gonzales)

Brian Bulcke ’10 M.S. ’11 (center) co-founded FanTravel with former Cardinal teammate Alex Loukas ’10 M.A. ’11, but he still balances entrepreneurship with life as a Canadian Football League player. (Courtesy of David Gonzales)

A defensive lineman for five years at Stanford — a stretch that culminated with the Orange Bowl win in early 2011 — Bulcke now plays for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League (CFL).

But while Bulcke is a professional football player, playing football is not his only job by any means. Bulcke is a co-founder (with best friend and former teammate Alex Loukas ‘10 M.A. ‘11) and partner of FanTravel, a company that organizes travel and events for fans attending sporting events. Life as a professional football player and entrepreneur can get pretty busy.

“For perspective,” Bulcke said, “I probably got out of practice about an hour, hour and a half ago [at 4 p.m.], raced back home, cranked through some emails and I’ll probably make a good effort until 7:30.”

Bulcke likens the balance to that he learned to achieve while a student-athlete at Stanford. It’s not a phenomenon unique to Bulcke either.

“We were always doing two things at once,” Bulcke said of his Stanford teammates. “So you look at a lot of the guys that have kept playing football [after Stanford], and a lot of them are doing different things [too]. Look at Richard Sherman working his foundation right now. Having two things going on at once can almost balance you more and keep you more well-rounded.”

The past year has been a big one for Bulcke on and off the field. Just a few days ago, Bulcke was nominated for CFL-wide awards for the most outstanding defensive player and the most outstanding Canadian-born player in the league. A little under 12 months ago, Bulcke played in the Grey Cup, Canada’s Super Bowl. And this summer, FanTravel became the official travel partner of Stanford football.

FanTravel’s partnership with Stanford Athletics has gotten FanTravel back to its roots. Bulcke and Loukas had the idea for FanTravel during their senior year at Stanford, and their original mentor and current trusted advisor is Director of Football Operations Matt Doyle.

“The expectations for a position like [Doyle’s] is unbelievable,” Bulcke said. “Everything has to be flawless, perfect. There’s an old adage, ‘If you’re five minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you’re forgotten.’ They’re doing this bookkeeping and logistics for 100-plus people week-in and week-out.”

Doyle’s biggest contribution to FanTravel went beyond just his good advice. Doyle gave Bulcke and Loukas a “toolkit of his best practices” that Bulcke says FanTravel uses for almost every trip it plans.

The first road trip planned by Bulcke and FanTravel after the company became Stanford football’s official travel partner was this September, when Stanford football played at Army. FanTravel set up a fan hotel in downtown Manhattan and held events the night before the game, but the highlight came — surprisingly — from the transportation.

The FanTravel crew, numbering around 600 Stanford fans, ferried to West Point, tailgating up the Hudson River. The logistics of Manhattan, ferrying and ending up at an Army base in West Point were a nightmare to plan for, according to Bulcke, but everything worked out as planned.

Bulcke, perhaps fittingly, wasn’t in attendance for the big day. While the rest of his partners in the company, along with the operational staff, went to New York to supervise, Bulcke was busy with his other job. His Tiger-Cats had a game in Winnipeg that day.

“I was bashing my face against other 300-pound men for the afternoon,” Bulcke said.

FanTravel will be back in action at USC, and Bulcke is expecting the same- sized crowd in Los Angeles as FanTravel got for the trip to Army.

Stanford has one more game before the trip to USC, and it’s a big one. For that game, Thursday against Oregon, Bulcke has perhaps even more at stake than he did at Army. One of Bulcke’s teammates in Hamilton is former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, and Bulcke freely admitted that he has a “gentlemen’s agreement” with Masoli on the outcome.

“We better darn well be [winning at the end of the game],” Bulcke said. “Not only do [Masoli and I] have the gentlemen’s bet, but we’ve got an entire full-body dunk in the ice tank for about 25 seconds for the loser [on the line].”

You can bet that Bulcke won’t be too happy with his former teammates if he has to take the cold plunge after a Cardinal loss.

Contact Sam Fisher at safisher ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Sam Fisher

Sam Fisher is the managing editor of sports for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 244. Sam also does play-by-play for KZSU's coverage of Stanford football, Stanford baseball and Stanford women's basketball. In 2013, Sam co-authored "Rags to Roses: The Rise of Stanford Football," with Joseph Beyda and George Chen.