Canadian Football League

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Former Canadian Football League coach knows his turf

John Huard knows all about artificial turf. When the Waterville native played for the New Orleans Saints in 1971, artificial turf ended what was left of a a promising professional football career.
"I tore my Achilles on AstroTurf when I was playing for the Saints in the old Tulane Stadium," Huard said. "That's bad stuff."
AstroTurf has gone the way of the eight-track tape player -- big in the 1970s, all but extinct today. The newer synthetic surfaces are much better. Huard knows about that too. He's owner of Northeast Turf, a South Portland company that recently laid down the FieldTurf surface for the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
You may have seen the high-speed video that shows Huard's workers laying in the new surface in about 15 seconds. It didn't go down that fast, but it went in quickly.
"It took a little over eight hours," Huard said.
Huard's company didn't prepare the surface, nor did it paint the lines. The painting would have taken another three or four days, but Pats owner Robert Kraft did not want permanent lines on the field because the New England Revolution soccer team also plays at Gillette.
Huard's son, Johnny, oversaw the on-site operation as workers sewed together panels 15x294 feet long.
"We used two crews on that job and four sewing machines," Huard said. "We probably have more equipment than anybody in the United States."
FieldTurf uses a mix of sand and rubber to simulate soil, and plastic shafts that mimic real grass. Huard's company spent a day pouring the rubber and sand into the surface. They then rolled it with a 10-ton roller, Huard said, "to give it the same feeling if you had played on it for a year."
A few days later, he and his wife watched the Pats play their first game on FieldTurf when Tom Brady and company beat the Chicago Bears. It drew positive response from the players, including Brady, who is 20-1 on synthetic turf.
The field was put in at a cost of $750,000 so it's no surprise that colleges and high schools are in the market for the product. Just about every FieldTurf surface in New England is Huard's since his company has the contract for the Northeast.
"Everybody wants it," said Huard, who began his company in 2000, two years after FieldTurf came on the market.
Huard's first FieldTurf job in Maine was at Howard's Sports Complex in Saco. Since then, FieldTurf has gone into Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland, at the Husson College baseball field in Bangor, at Hampden Academy and North Yarmouth Academy, among others. There is also talk, Huard said, of installing FieldTurf at Mahaney Diamond on the University of Maine campus in Orono.
Huard, 62, has never strayed too far from the game he grew up playing in Waterville. A star linebacker and Little All-American at Maine, he went on to captain the Denver Broncos. He has coached at Maine Maritime Academy where he was twice named Coach of the Year, and with several teams in the Canadian Football League.
He was coaching with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL when his friend J.I. Albrecht introduced him to FieldTurf. Huard flew to Pennsylvania to check out the new surface and came away impressed.
"I came back and said 'you've got something' " Huard said.
A month later, Albrecht had a heart attack, but Huard remained hooked on the product. He met John Gilman, the FeldTurf founder at a convention in Las Vegas and went into business.
"I guess I have the best of both worlds," Huard said. "I'm too old to participate, but not too old to watch athletes have fun."
Huard has published two football books about coaching and remains an avid fan.
"I enjoy the Patriots," he said. "I like what the coach does. I used to approach it in a similar way."
Six-feet and 220 pounds in his playing days, Huard thinks he could find a spot in today's game as an undersized linebacker. The size of today's players are just one of the changes the game has undergone.
"The young guys don't learn to play with pain," Huard said. "They get something wrong and they're out. Of course, the money so tremendous they don't take any chances."
The money was far less than in Huard's day, when players had to take off-season jobs.
"I worked as a probation and parole officer in Augusta my first year back from Denver," he said


Post a Comment

<< Home