Manitoba man working with Texas-based college football team is living out his childhood dream
No. 3 TCU battles unbeaten No. 1 Georgia in Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship
Barret Dufour vividly remembers watching the 1998 Rose Bowl in his parents' home in Brandon, Man., thinking how much he wanted to be on the U.S. college football stage.
"I didn't really pay that much attention to school. I didn't really care about career fair because there was no 'win-a-Rose-Bowl-with-Michigan booth,'" he said Saturday .
The Michigan Wolverines topped the Washington State Cougars in the Rose Bowl — also known as the Granddaddy of Them All in college football — that year.
Twenty-five years later, Dufour will be on the sidelines for the NCAA College Football Playoff's national championship game Monday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. Dufour is a human performance intern with the third-ranked Texas Christian University Horned Frogs (13-1), who will take on the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs (14-0).
He is truly living his childhood dream.
"I didn't quite win a Rose Bowl with Michigan, but I beat them in the Fiesta Bowl. Twelve-year-old me might be a little disappointed with the teams, but I couldn't have imagined it," Dufour said.
TCU knocked off previously-unbeaten Michigan 51-45 in one national semifinal on New Year's Eve, while later that day Georgia kept its hopes alive for back-to-back titles, eking out a 42-41 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes.
The Horned Frogs are the first unranked team in the pre-season Associated Press poll to earn a trip to the title game, and are playing for their first national title since 1938.
Sports science, psychology
The 37-year-old Dufour, who now resides in Carberry — about 50 kilometres east of his hometown of Brandon, Man. — has been with TCU since last summer.
Dufour's work is more specialized than traditional strength and conditioning, and includes applied sports science and sports psychology.
He handles the setup of GPS units players wear on their shoulder pads or specialized vests during practices, as well as satellite beacons on the field. The units monitor speed and high-metabolic load metrics, which Dufour helps analyze and turn into reports on the players' health.
Dufour also measures the velocity of barbells and force metrics during lifts.
It sounds complicated, but Dufour says it's all pretty intuitive.
"When it comes to sports science, when it comes to data acquisition, everything that's happening is happening anyway. When you put all those sensors and things on it, it just tells you what's happening a little better or a little bit more accurately."
But it's more advanced than his days of nine-man high school football in 2003 with the Vincent Massey Vikings in Brandon.
"Coming from the Rural Manitoba Football League … having to do fundraisers for jerseys … and seeing when all the laptops and iPads and everything else comes out, yeah it's definitely a different world," Dufour said.
From player to coach
After high school, Dufour spent one year playing junior rugby in Ireland. He returned to the gridiron in North Dakota, spending one season with the Mayville State Comets of the NAIA.
In 2008, Dufour jumped into coaching high school football in Brandon with the Crocus Plainsmen junior varsity squad. He returned to the team in 2012.
Dufour credits Kevin Boyd, a former CFL draft pick who was a well-respected member of Brandon's football community and coached the Plainsmen, with getting him into coaching. Boyd died in 2016 at the age of 46 following liver and stomach complications.
"He was one of the warmest people I've ever met," Dufour said. "He really cared about people and he was really good at seeing things in people that they didn't see in themselves."
Boyd saw the ability to coach in Dufour, and after earning two degrees in the United Kingdom, Dufour enrolled in West Virginia's master's of science program in 2017, graduating in 2019.
He tried to open a youth athletic academy — named after Boyd — but it didn't go well.
In 2020, he found a gig as a strength and conditioning intern with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. He was there a month before the pandemic sent him back to Manitoba.
During the 2021-22 hockey season, Dufour spent six months training the Souris-based Southwest Cougars U15 AAA club before accepting his current role with the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth, Texas.
It was supposed to be a two-month posting, but he's still there.
🌀🐸🌀<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoFrogs?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoFrogs</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DFwBig12Team?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DFwBig12Team</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CFBPlayoff?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CFBPlayoff</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NationalChampionship?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NationalChampionship</a> <a href="https://t.co/2IOatwvMC5">pic.twitter.com/2IOatwvMC5</a>—@TCUFootball
Dufour has an integral role during games for TCU, which is rare for a human performance intern. He is one of a few people responsible for getting the correct special teams unit onto the field.
Monday's title clash will be no different, and he can't wait, especially knowing that his time with TCU is coming to a close.
He's back in Manitoba on Thursday, but will always have that frog in him.
"To be in this game is something else," Dufour said.
"I'm fortunate for this experience to be able to say that I can be at this level and contribute at this level."