Southern Maine goalie Chris Willard
's job this fall is to stop balls lobbed at his goal. In the offseason, he dodged mortar shells lobbed at him in
Willard's quickness paid off last Saturday for Southern Maine, a NCAA Division III school, when he stopped a late penalty kick to preserve the Huskies' 1-0 victory over Worcester
State. It also helped him in Iraq, where he spent four months with the 243rd Engineering Installation Squadron, a Maine Air National Guard unit.
"My first mortar attack, I was on the
ground quicker than you could think," Willard told the Portland Press Herald
. "Sometimes you'd get them eight or nine
times a day. By the time, I left I wasn't even flinching. Not that I wasn't paying attention."
Willard, whose job was to construct communications towers, was always on the lookout for
bombers or bomb devices.
"About 200 meters away from where we were working, a roadside bomb exploded," said Willard. "As far away as we were, it flattened us. It knocked the wind out of
Willard, who left for Iraq the day after Christmas, returned a changed man.
"Last year I was an angry person on the field," he told the Portland Press Herald
. "If the other team scored, it was all my fault. That's how I felt. Now I get mad at people getting mad at the small things."
Southern Maine lost
its first two games of the 2006, but with Willard, a senior co-captain, in goal, the Huskies have won four in a row. Their most recent win came Thursday when they beat Maine-Farmington, 3-2.