Q & A with Bill Lafleur
Many students at Norfolk Catholic elementary school only know Bill Lafleur, 42, as the principal. But before he spent much of his time behind a desk, he played football at the highest levels.
Along with Nebraska, he played or was in camp with (in order) the New Orleans Saints, Barcelona Dragons (NFL Europe), New Orleans Saints (again), Montreal Alouettes (CFL), Barcelona Dragons (NFL Europe again), San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers (again). There also were many NFL tryouts.
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Q: Did you know many of the punters when you were playing or competing for a spot in the NFL?
A: Yes, there were 32 teams when I played, so there were 32 starting punters. Then there were the next guys who got released, so there were another 32 or so. If there was a tryout, there was always probably about 30 to 40 guys at the camps in that next tier of guys trying to make it when someone wasn’t doing well or if someone got hurt.
Q:What was Montreal like with the French language?
A: It was a wonderful experience. It was a little like people speaking Spanish in Barcelona. Both were wonderful cities. Lafleur is a giant name in Montreal and the Quebec province, obviously with Guy Lafleur, the hockey player. When I got signed, the media and the fans would ask, “Are you related to Guy Lafleur?” I always answered no, but then maybe one time I said, “Yes” to get a reaction, but no, it is no relation.
Q: What was the best part about playing football at the highest levels?
A: For me, it was being part of the team. You hang out with these guys, go to practice and are just part of a cohesive unit. You play catch. It is just a group within the group, especially in NFL Europe or playing in Canada. You don’t know anybody there and you can’t speak the language, so it is 60 guys living in a motel mostly. You are real tight. If you go out or go to the beach, you go out together. It’s not like living in Nebraska where you know somebody and you call your friend or an uncle. You don’t have anybody like that there. But it was fun. You don’t take the time to really enjoy it because you are working, but it was fun. Montreal especially, there was a lot of culture. I met some different people and players.
Q: Playing the game, was the CFL a lot different with the bigger field and only three downs?
A: I remember my first game and we’re going to fly into Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. That’s where the Roughriders play. They said, “Man, it’s windy there.” I had obviously never been there, so we’re flying in there. I told them, “I’m from Nebraska. Is it a lot different from there?” Then somebody on the plane told me it is so windy that there are no trees. I said, “What do you mean, there’s no trees?” They said it was so windy that it is hard for them to take root and grow. I thought they were kidding, but then when we landed I looked around and there were hardly any trees. It was just table top flat and it was windy. You are out on the plains. It was probably late September or early October. It was windy and cool. That game I had one of the better games I have ever punted. I had some of the farthest punts. too. It was a great experience for me because you are the new guy on the team. Nobody knows you and then you play well, even by your own standards. Other guys are like, “Wow.” It was such a good feeling.
There was something else I remember. They had beer in the locker room after the game.
Q: Are you kidding? That sounds like stories of football in the 1950s and ’60s. Have a beer and a cigarette.
A: No, it’s not like the NFL, but after the game there were coolers of beer. Guys would be going out and grabbing a can of beer.
Q: When did you know it was time to quit the NFL?
A: Probably about 2005 or 2006. I was probably in my late 20s, maybe 30. It was just where I was probably ready to quit, but I think I maybe could have still played. Looking back, people reading this might say, “Why would you ever quit, especially if this is something you thought you could still do?” I don’t know, but when you’re in that lifestyle of you’re here, then get released, then maybe somebody else calls. ... I kind of got hurt in San Diego and then got released. You really had to make a commitment to stay in shape. Mentally and physically, when you are trying to compete at that level, if you don’t work out as much as you can and you’re already a little on the edge, it is hard to compete.
Q: So what was your final tryout or camp?
A: It was a workout. It would have been Jacksonville in 2005 or 2006. Then after that, the calls just didn’t come and I knew I was done playing.
Q: So given that you played at Nebraska and professionally, why aren’t you helping out with the football program at Norfolk Catholic?
A: I did initially with football, and then junior high basketball and girls track. I like coaching. When this job opened up, it was presented as an administrative position and there would not be any opportunity to coach. So I kind of had to make a decision. It was just not an option.
Q: But you still help with some kicking camps, right?
A: Yes, I remember Jeff Tomlin at Grand Island called me and said he had this kicker, Sam Foltz, and asked me to work with this guy. He thought he was a Division I punter. I heard that a lot and I thought, OK. Maybe they are good and maybe they aren’t. I didn’t know Coach Tomlin and he brought out Foltz and he had a handful of balls, maybe 10 or 15. I remember saying to Tomlin, “You’re right. He is really good.”
That’s the part of coaching where you can have an impact. That’s where there is a reward. Seeing someone you started working with as a sophomore and maybe having some impact. I remember calling coach Scott Frost at Oregon and saying, “Man, you should give this guy (Foltz) a scholarship. He is just tremendous.” He then ended up going to Nebraska, but it was just great seeing all the things he was able to achieve. You feel that sense of accomplishment. Tragically, you just wanted more for him. I wish he would have got drafted and would have played 15 years in the NFL. It just didn’t get to be.
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Foltz died in a car accident in Wisconsin in July 2016.