Football Zebras exclusive
The NFL will audition three officials at the referee position in the final preseason week: Shawn Hochuli, Alex Kemp, and Shawn Smith. Last year, three officials auditioned for the referee position; however, no referees vacancies were created in the past offseason.
It is not clear if the tryouts will be for an entire game or for only the first or second half.
Given the dearth of opportunities for NFL officials to prove themselves as potential referees, these auditions are important both for the NFL officiating office and for the official who hopes to be made a crew chief.
Eleven officials have auditioned for the white hat since 2013. Current referees Ron Torbert, Craig Wrolstad, and John Hussey have all auditioned. Brad Allen made history in 2014 when he was the first official in the Super Bowl era to be hired straight out of college as a NFL referee.
The three officials will work with their regular-season crew, and their crew chiefs will be on the sideline during the audition process.
Shawn Hochuli, son of Ed Hochuli, is beginning is third season in the NFL. Last year he worked his first playoff game in the divisional round, which was his first year of eligibility.
In college, Hochuli worked in the Big 12 and Pac-12 at back judge and referee. As a Pac-12 referee, he worked the 2012 USC-Notre Dame game and the 2012 Pac-12 football championship.
Hochuli will work with Brad Allen’s crew in the Steelers-Panthers game.
Alex Kemp has been a side judge since joining the NFL in 2014. Kemp cut his teeth in the Big Ten conference for several seasons as a side judge and referee. Kemp worked several post-season games as a Big Ten side judge, including the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. Alex is the son of the late NFL side judge and referee Stan Kemp.
Kemp auditioned in the 2015 preseason, and he is considered a frontrunner for the next available vacancy. He will be in Thursday’s 49ers-Chargers game with Ed Hochuli’s crew.
Smith enters his second season as an NFL umpire – a new position for the official as he worked Big Ten football games as a side judge and referee.
Smith completed his first full season as a Big Ten referee in 2014, when the NFL came calling for the 2015 season.
It seems like the NFL wants to take a hard look at Smith for the referee position. For all but seven minutes of the game, Smith is lined up in the offensive backfield, very similar to the referee position. Recently, the NFL has placed potential referee candidates in the umpire position to work in close proximity to a veteran white hat.
Smith is assigned to the Jets-Eagles contest with Jeff Triplette’s crew.
Images: Michael C. Hebert/Saints, Lincoln Journal Star, Tim Schoon/University of Iowa