Just a few years after introducing a modified refrigerated shipping container to keep football players from getting dangerously overheated during practices in the punishing August heat, Opelousas businessman Paul Boudreaux is seeing growing interest in his products.

Boudreaux said he’s been contacted about the Boudreaux Box by government agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service. “Those forestry agents that are fighting wildfires, they’ve got 80 pounds of gear on and it doesn’t breathe,” he said. “Plus, they’re standing by a fire.” Construction companies also have looked into buying the boxes as a means of giving workers relief during the summer. He also sees the boxes being used at outdoor festivals, like the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and at NASCAR events during the summer.

The Boudreaux Box was introduced about five years ago at LSU and Alabama. Now they’re being used by a range of high school, college and pro football teams — including the New Orleans Saints, Clemson, Central High School, the Houston Texans and Florida State University.

A top-of-the-line customized model, like the ones found at LSU and Alabama, sells for $180,000. These are outfitted with features such as metal benches and aluminum interior paneling, to help the players get even colder; windows, so players can look out on the practice field and not feel claustrophobic and confined to a shipping container; and rubber flooring, to make it easier to sanitize and clean. It takes about five to six weeks to produce a box. 

Improving the boxes is a constant process. One recent August afternoon, it was a chilly 56 degrees inside the box and a muggy 95 degrees on the outside. Boudreaux was pointing out to LSU trainers how the next step would be to install a small fan on the side of the box, to help circulate air. "Moving air will make you feel colder," he said. 

Some of the changes to the box have come as the result of Boudreaux’s new partner, Ben Bordelon. Bordelon was an LSU offensive lineman from 1993-96 and spent a season with the San Diego Chargers. He now is president and chief executive officer of Bollinger Shipyards, the Lockport-based boat builder.

Bordelon has made several suggestions, such as adding the aluminum interior paneling, to keep things cooler for players.

“I’m from Opelousas. Where am I going to find the HVAC engineers?" Boudreaux said. "Plus I’m 65 years old; I didn’t want to start from scratch.”

Getting involved with Bollinger, one of the state's major employers, also had other benefits. While the first boxes were surplus refrigerated containers Boudreaux had acquired, the custom-made boxes are now being built at Bollinger by shipyard employees.

“The economy hasn’t been really great in Louisiana, and we need to help our people out and create as many jobs as we can,” Boudreaux said.

Boudreaux got out of the pipe fitting and valves sales business about 17 years ago and started selling football equipment from his Boudreaux Athletics business. Several years ago, he got involved in selling things to help players cool off.

“The reason I did this is to help the student athletes,” he said. “I’m worried about heat-related deaths.”

Football players in the Gulf South are especially susceptible to heat-related ailments. They’re running and exerting a lot of energy blocking and tackling, all done in hot, humid weather with up to 65 pounds of pads and gear on them. To make matters even worse, Boudreaux points out that the surface temperature on the artificial practice field at LSU can get as high as 130 degrees in the dog days of August.

“I’m trying to make a difference and protect the student athlete. It's always been my No. 1 goal,” he said, refusing to discuss revenue or the potential for the business. “It’s never been about the money.” 

At first, Boudreaux used misting tents. Then he came up with the idea of using surplus refrigerated shipping containers.  

Despite the attention for his boxes, including articles in Sports Illustrated, USA Today and on the AccuWeather channel, Boudreaux said he has managed to keep up with demand. 

And he keeps on seeing other potential customers for the equipment. He jokes about people installing the boxes on their patios or putting them near the South End Zone at Tiger Stadium as a way of giving fans a place to go during August and September football games. 

Said Boudreaux, “I see we’re making a difference and I think based on what we have, we’re definitely going to keep trying and making things better.”

Acadiana Business Today: Acadiana region continues to add jobs, but not in oil and gas; Opelousas man behind the Boudreaux Box looks to move off the football field

Email Timothy Boone at tboone@theadvocate.com.