John Huard, the small linebacker who left a big impression on the field and off, is going into the College Football Hall of Fame. The 70-year-old University of Maine star is the first from his home state to be inducted.

“It is a nice honor,” said Huard, who was notified by a letter in a package from the National Football Foundation. He sounded more impressed by the commemorative leather football he’ll add to his collection.

“I was blessed. My parents brought me up the right way and I had great mentors. It is what it is,” he said, referring to the national recognition. “Life goes on.”

Huard is the oldest in a class that includes fellow linebacker Derrick Thomas of Alabama, LaDainian Tomlinson, a running back at Texas Christian, and Sterling Sharpe, a wide receiver at South Carolina. Fourteen players and two coaches will be inducted at the 57th National Football Foundation awards dinner Dec. 9 in New York City.

Huard played three seasons at Maine, beginning in 1963.

Twice he was named a first-team All-American. He was the defensive captain of the Maine team that played in the 1965 Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Florida. Maine lost 31-0 to East Carolina but Huard was one of the defensive stars.

“John was in his own category,” said Gerry Perkins, a teammate who played on the offensive line and later coached football and wrestling at Mountain Valley High in Rumford. “He weighed about 220, which wasn’t very big for a linebacker, but he was all muscle and intensity.

“He was the guy we turned to on goal-line stands. He’d drive his shoulder through your sternum. I wouldn’t want to get between him and the ballcarrier.

“You didn’t want to let down Walt Abbott (then the line coach) or (head coach Harold Westerman), and you sure didn’t want to let down John Huard.”

Huard grew up in Waterville. He and Ted Alfond met in kindergarten and became best friends, later playing one-on-one football on the Alfond’s front lawn. They went together to the Waterville Boys and Girls Club to play basketball.

That friendship would have a profound impact on Huard because it brought Ted’s father, Harold, into his life. In some ways, Harold Alfond became a second father to Huard, challenging him to work harder, be better and earn life’s rewards.

“I was 13, maybe 14 years old and running around the (Dexter) shoe factory one day with Ted when Harold was meeting with some businessmen,” said Huard. “He introduced me to them, saying I was going to play in the NFL someday.

“I thought if he believes in me so much, I’ve got to work at it.”

In 1967 Huard was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fifth round of the American Football League draft. He played three years for the Broncos, whose linebacker coach was Dick MacPherson of Old Town.

Still a small linebacker, Huard bulked up to about 240 pounds. Today he believes the added muscle weight helped cause the knee injury that shortened his playing career. He was a step or two away from sacking Johnny Unitas when “I jumped on a blocker and the knee exploded.” Two years later he was with the New Orleans Saints and a teammate of Archie Manning, now the chairman of the National Football Foundation. “I guess I’ll see him at the dinner. That will be nice.”

Huard moved on to the Canadian Football League to play briefly for Montreal and Toronto. He retired from a playing career in 1975.

Huard turned to coaching. His 1979 and 1981 teams at Acadia University in Nova Scotia won two Canadian titles. He moved to Maine Maritime Academy and those teams won.

He had less success returning to the CFL as a head coach. He resigned from the Toronto Argonauts in 2000 after a 1-6-1 start.

“In football and in life you get knocked down,” said Huard. “The question is, will you get up quickly?”

Today he is CEO of Northeast Turf, Hue Inc., in South Portland. His company has installed more than 600 fields east of the Mississippi River, including at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.

Huard was at his home in the Cumberland area Thursday. He planned to get on his lawn tractor and mow his lawn.

“This will be my last year,” he said, his voice halfway between a growl and a laugh. “I keep knocking things over. I hit the house, the door. I’ve torn two or three knobs off my grill. Somebody else will have to do this. I’m done.”

No, he’s not.

He’s John Huard.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

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