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Painting the opposition into a corner

Joseph Aaron Barrett, 21, lives to play paintball. As captain and coach of the University at Buffalo paintball team, he led the Bulls to a Class AA title last April at the National Collegiate Paintball Association finals in Lakeland, Fla.

Barrett, a communications major, has competed in hundreds of tournaments, and hopes to play professional paintball after he graduates in May. A native of North Tonawanda, he describes his sport as exhilarating, fast-paced and intense.

So is he.

>People Talk: How did you get started in paintball?

Joseph Aaron Barrett: I started in 1999 playing in the woods behind my house. What attracted me was the adrenalin rush. The first time you play paintball, you never forget it. It's kind of like a battle, but it's kind of like a sport, too.

>PT: Why are you so good at it?

JAB: Dedication, passion and priority. I love it more than most other players love it. There's not anyone else who watches it as much as I do.

>PT: Do you have a girlfriend?

JAB: No. Paintball is like a greedy mistress. It takes up every weekend if you play at the level I play at. I probably only missed one or two weekends of play this entire year.

>PT: Do you train?

JAB: I work out, run two miles every day, drink a lot of water and eat protein. A few days I will watch videos, or rethink what just happened at an event. On weekends, we scrimmage and drill. I'll set up a target -- like an empty cardboard box -- and run as fast as I can shooting at it.

>PT: Are you a good shot?

JAB: Very accurate. Most upper-level paintball players are good. Paintball guns are very accurate, and have been since 2003. I could probably shoot a tennis ball 100 feet away in the first or second shot. You get used to shooting moving targets, half-exposed targets.

>PT: Is paintball a game of strategy?

JAB: A lot of pro players call it a chess game with guns.

>PT: Are you at your performance peak?

JAB: Nowhere near, honestly. I add more to my game every year. I am proud of what I do. That's why I have the tattoo of my team on my leg. It's not every day, every year or even every decade that you get a chance to be the best at something. After six or seven years of playing tournament paintball, I'm a veteran. I could do it as a job. I could do it as my life.

>PT: How pricey is the pursuit of paintball?

JAB: A case of paint -- about 2,000 balls -- costs between $40 and $80. Up in Canada, it's $100. With guns shooting 12 to 15 balls per second, your case may only last 10 to 15 games -- three to five hours of play.

>PT: Are paintball guns expensive?

JAB: Guns go from $100 to $1,600. On average, they're $500 to $1,000. My first gun at this upper level was more expensive than my first car. I mean, I got a Ford Taurus when I was 16 for a grand. I paid over $1,200 for a few paintball markers.

>PT: Markers?

JAB: Paintball guns started out simply as a marker used for trees that would be cut down or to mark cows that would be shipped off for beef.

>PT: Are you one with the gun?

JAB: That's funny, because there's a few paintball DVDs called that. I would say I am. The gun is an extension of you, and you use it to win the game.

>PT: Are paintball guns allowed on campus?

JAB: There is a zero tolerance policy at UB, like many other schools, and you are not allowed to have any weapons on campus. A paintball gun does shoot a projectile. This is where paintball's image has a problem. Paintball is ruined by a lot of kids being stupid. They use the markers to mess around.

>PT: Can you make money playing paintball?

JAB: Oh yeah. I would like to play pro paintball, but there are no pro teams in the area. The one semi-close pro team was the Philadelphia All Americans, and their sponsor went bankrupt in 2008. Now, there's 12 pro teams. The best are San Diego Dynasty and Russian Legion, a government-funded paintball team. It's second only to their hockey team when it comes to funding.

>PT: Nationally, where are paintball hotbeds?

JAB: Everywhere in California because of the great climate for paintball. Florida is also an all-year paintball area. For paint to fly great -- because it won't fly as accurate if it's windy or downpouring -- it should be sunny and 60 to 80 degrees. I've played in hotter, but at that point with 20 pounds of heavy dark-covered gear, it becomes easy to get heat-exhausted.

>PT: Have you been injured?

JAB: Not playing paintball. Paintball is a non-contact sport. Although you do shoot people up, you never actually run into someone. You wear special pants, a full face mask, padded jerseys and arm- and knee-pads.

>PT: What else do you do?

JAB: I go to school. I've always had jobs since I was a young kid and I did everything and anything I could to make money to play paintball. I'd cut lawns, snowblow, sell my own bike. I've sold one of our couches to play the next weekend.