Paintball champion takes aim

Even though getting shot at isn’t something most students would enjoy, Zac Collins excitedly enters the crossfire.

That’s because this Northern Kentucky University sophomore gets fired upon every time he steps on the paintball field.

Paintball, where players hunt down one another using CO2-propelled spheres of paint, is one of the more expensive sports. Just the starters – gun, paintballs, CO2, pads and facemask – cost enough to max out a credit card. But, if you can afford it, paintball also calls for some cool gear such as harnesses, grenade launchers and even cannons.

Despite its cost, paintball is a popular sport. In 2002, 5.9 million people played the sport, according to a study by American Sports Data Inc.

Collins has been playing competitively with Team Unlimited, based out of Florence, Ky., since 2004, though he started playing his freshman year in high school. In 2004 he played his first tournament in Chicago.

It was in 2007, however, Team Unlimited won the World Cup of Paintball at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.

“That is my proudest moment from playing paintball,” Collins said. He credits his parents for his paintball success.

“My parents are the most open-minded parents I have known,” Collins said. “There are parents that are against welts, bruises and cuts. My parents are like ‘suck it up and put some iodine on it.'”

After Collins transferred from the University of Louisville to NKU, he tried to form a paintball club on campus, but had trouble getting enough people to join and, with his competitive play, Collins didn’t have enough time to lead the club.

“With the trips with the team, I just couldn’t find the time,” Collins said. “Plus it was difficult, with only 10 members including myself, to find someone to take over.”

So, Collins no longer participates in the club, which has since become inactive.

For Collins, paintball is more than a sport. If idle hands are the devil’s playground, then the game keeps his trigger finger busy and out of trouble.

“Because our team is a family and the owners are a pretty religious group,” he said. “Where we play, there is open play on Saturday nights.”

He spends most of his weekends there.

Collins has traveled to over 13 cities from Philadelphia to Los Angeles with Team Unlimited.

Team Unlimited was in Glendale, Ariz., for the Paintball Sports Promotions Phoenix Open March 13-16. Collins said playing near the home of Super Bowl XXL was one of his favorite places to go last season. He added that The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., is another personal favorite.

In paintball, as in many sports, learning to work as a team is one of the biggest values, Collins said.

“Teamwork is huge in playing paintball,” he said. “Maybe we spend too much time together. We seem to finish each others’ sentences, which, for guys, is pretty weird.”

Whether you’re an elite veteran or green neophyte, every player has the same obstacle to overcome.

“The biggest thing for anyone is to get over the fear of getting shot,” Collins said.