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More officials in the development pipeline, as NFL expands training program



29 individuals take part in on-field audition

This year, the NFL has accepted 29 developmental officials in its annual preseason training program, up from the 21 slots open in the previous three seasons the program has been run. This practice squad for officials was known as the advanced development program, instituted after the last collective bargaining agreement with the officials. This season, the Football Operations website refers to the program as the Officiating Development Program, a name that has referred to all of the league’s training initiatives generally; the change in terminology may reflect the fact that 3 Canadian Football League officials are part of the program, in addition to the 29 developmental officials.

These officials will attend preseason clinics, training camps, scrimmages, and crew meetings and have a chance to work preseason games. Once the regular season begins, these college and CFL officials will return to their regular conference or league to officiate. Once a vacancy opens on the NFL roster, one of the 29 college officials could be hired.

At the end of each season, the NFL evaluates each member of the developmental squad and determines if they are ready to be hired into the NFL, if they need another season in the program, or if they are not a good NFL fit. If the official is dropped from the training program, they can continue calling college football. By our count, 6 of last year’s advanced training officials were not asked back for this season (3 were hired by the NFL in May).

This year’s ODP members are listed below. Superscript numbers show the number of years a returning official has been in the league’s training programs.

  • Brian Bolinger, Big Ten
  • Mike Carr,² Big Ten
  • Maia Chaka,³ Conference USA
  • Land Clark, Pac-12
  • Ryan Dickson,³ Pac-12
  • Matt Edwards,² Big Ten
  • Marlow Fitzgerald,² Mountain West
  • Quentin Givens,² Big 12
  • Michael Griffith, American Athletic 
  • Nate Jones, Conference USA
  • Tony Josselyn, SEC
  • Jacob Kemp, Mid American
  • Terry Killens, American Athletic
  • Justin Larrew, Conference USA
  • Kevin Mar,³ Mountain West
  • Mike Morton,² ACC
  • LaShell Nelson, Conference USA
  • Justin Nelson, Pac-12
  • Lyndon Nixon,³ Big 12
  • David Oliver, SEC
  • Nicole Randolph, Missouri Valley
  • Mearl Robinson,² Pac-12
  • Danny Short, Atlantic Coast
  • Tab Slaughter, Big 12
  • Reggie Smith, Big 12
  • Larry Smith, Mid American
  • Frank Steratore, Big Ten
  • Mark Stewart, Big 12
  • Don Willard, Big Ten
  • Steve Woods,² Big Ten

Additionally this year, three CFL officials are part of the ODP program:

  • Dave Foxcroft
  • Justin McInnes
  • Dave Hawkshaw

There are three women in the program, Chaka, LaShell Nelson, and Randolph.

NFL officiating has been a family affair for many years. Currently the Steratores, Bergmans and Paganellis have brother combinations on the field. The Colemans, Hochulis and Freemans have father/son combinations on the field. Joining the family affair in the training program this year are Justin Larrew (son of Joe Larrew), Frank Steratore (cousin of Tony and Gene Steratore), Jacob Kemp (brother of Alex Kemp and the son of the late Stan Kemp) and Tab Slaughter (son of former official and current regional supervisor Gary Slaughter).

Fans may huff and puff at this situation, but while the last name may open the door, these sons and brothers will have to earn their spot on the roster and prove they belong each year.

The ODP officials are not members of the NFL Referees Association (the officials’ union) and the NFL cannot hire them mid-season to replace injured, suspended or terminated officials. The ODP officials will wear a regular NFL officials’ uniform and be numbered 136 on up.

Take a good look at these officials this preseason if you have the chance. Some of these zebras are the future of NFL officiating.