IRVING, Texas — The first football game Jerod Phillips ever officiated was a little league showdown in Jay, his hometown in Oklahoma’s Delaware County, near the Arkansas state line.
It was hot. Maybe 100 degrees. And pouring rain. “You couldn’t even see across the field,” Phillips said.
That was 21 years ago. Phillips was a college freshman just trying to make some extra money.
On Aug. 31, Phillips will trot onto another field. It will be hot. It could be raining. But it won’t be in Jay and it won’t be little leaguers. Phillips will make his Big 12 officiating debut with the nationally televised Baylor-SMU game, which inaugurates McLane Stadium hard by the Brazos River.
“That’s going to be a surreal moment for me,” Phillips said. “That’s going to be a big day. I’m humbled for that opportunity.”
And Phillips, a line judge, will be thinking about the drenched and muggy field in Jay.
“That’s where we started... me and my dad,” Phillips said. “I always like to think when I go into these stadiums, ‘It’s a long way from Jay, Oklahoma, little league.’”
Not too long ago, Phillips was calling high school games. Then junior college. That’s where the Big 12’s officiating scouts spied him. They directed Phillips into the Division II Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, moved him into the Southland and Mountain West conferences, and finally elevated Phillips to the Big 12. Quite a jump in six years.
Phillips’ rapid ascension opens a window into how officials get to the highest levels of football.
“We noticed it right off that he had a lot of potential,” said Walt Anderson, the Big 12’s director of officiating. “Kind of put him on our radar.”
What exactly did the Big 12 notice? A physically fit official who was always where he was supposed to be and displayed a willingness to get better.
“The first thing is, because it’s just so important to us in terms of the fitness, a guy in shape will catch your visible eye,” Anderson said. “Looks like he belongs on the football field as opposed to belonging in the bar.
“We watch how they work. We watch what they’re looking at. Even at a lower level, there are certain basic fundamentals. We want them learning good mechanics. Just like a coach would tell you, if I can coach guys that I know are going to be coming into my program to do certain things early on, I don’t have to spend time teaching them later.
“There are certain fundaments we look for in officials; it catches our eye, because it’s like I don’t have to retrain this guy. I don’t have to spend time at this level, he’s already at this level. I can take him at that point and move him forward. We noticed that with Jerod.”
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