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April 16, 2014

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Pro kicker’s new field, goal

For UNLV grad student, life after NFL centers on finding ways to conserve energy

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Steve Marcus

Todd France, 29, who played in the NFL, the Arena Football League and NFL Europe, left sports for UNLV’s mechanical engineering master’s program.

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Todd France's research at UNLV focuses on renewable energy, an interest sparked by seeing wind turbines across the countrysides and coasts of Germany and Scandinavia.

Football gave Todd France the opportunity to see the world. The professional kicker’s second career will enable him to contribute something meaningful to it.

France, 29, who played in the NFL, the Arena Football League and the now-defunct NFL Europe, left sports to study mechanical engineering at UNLV. He conducts research on energy conservation.

He is running computer simulations to determine how to best outfit a group of Summerlin houses to reduce energy consumption. He is trying to determine the best mix of products — better insulation, windows that deflect solar radiation — that will pay for themselves by cutting utility costs.

France began planning long ago for a post-sports career. At the University of Toledo in his Ohio hometown, he earned near-perfect grades while kicking for the football team.

“Education was important because you can only play sports for so long,” France said. “I think that’s something that a lot of kids are not realizing these days — that even if they do make it to the professional level ... they still have 40 years of their life that they need to do something with.”

After finishing college in 2002, France played two seasons in NFL Europe. He used his time overseas to continue learning. One memorable experience was a visit to Dachau, the former Nazi concentration camp, where he saw the gas chambers and furnaces he had read about in history class.

He trained with a few NFL teams, playing in four regular-season games. He joined the Arena Football League in 2006, ranking fourth that season in scoring among kickers.

But France was ready for a change. As a kicker, he spent most of each game on the sidelines.

He had become interested in renewable energy after seeing wind turbines scattered across German and Scandanvian countrysides and coasts. His native Midwest had lost manufacturing jobs to factories abroad, and renewables excited him because he saw a potential for creating work building products such as turbines and solar panels.

In 2007 he enrolled in UNLV’s mechanical engineering master’s program, drawn by renewable energy research programs and Robert Abella, a UNLV faculty member who had mentored him years before when both were in Toledo. France and his wife were familiar with Southern Nevada, having married at Valley of Fire in 2006.

France hopes to earn a Ph.D. so he can teach at a university. He wants to continue working on problems relating to renewable energy. As a teacher and researcher, he’ll shape the way future generations treat the world around them.

“It is irresponsible on our part to believe that burning coal and petroleum has no effect on the environment,” France said. “I would like to help play a role in our conversion from a fossil fuel-based economy to one run by renewables.”

His days on the sidelines are over.

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