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White hat auditions begin this weekend

The NFL is giving five of its officials the chance to audition to be future referees, or white hats. Since there are so few opportunities for the NFL to see how prospective referees would handle the new position, these pre-season tryouts are very important.

The NFL will assign the five officials to one preseason game where they will call all or part of the game from the referee position. Current referees like Ron Torbert and John Hussey auditioned for referee and today are wearing the white hat. An audition doesn’t guarantee that the official will some day become a referee. But, it does give a good sign of who the NFL thinks could be a future crew-chief.

To be considered for a referee, an official has to excel at their current position. The NFL wants a referee to put in 10-15 years at the position, so the window starts closing for candidates around age 55.

The 2017 candidates

Here are the officials auditioning for referee this year.

Shawn Hochuli

Yes, he’s the son of current referee Ed Hochuli. Shawn came to the NFL from the Pac-12 as a back judge and referee. He called a USC-Notre Dame game as a referee and officiated NCAA post-season games.

Shawn has worked a playoff games in the last two seasons.

He auditioned for referee last year and he will work a game at referee this Saturday during the Colts-Cowboys game.

Time is on Hochuli’s side as he is young. While I doubt the NFL will have two Hochuli white hats simultaneously, there is a strong chance the league will bequeath a white hat to Shawn once Ed retires.




shawn smith white hat

Shawn Smith

Smith enters his third season as an NFL umpire. 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 near  a veteran white hat.

Smith auditioned for referee last year and he will work a game at referee in pre-season Week 3 or Week 4.


Field judge Adrian Hill (Jim Biever/Packers)

Adrian Hill

Adrian Hill entered the NFL in 2010 from Conference USA where he was a crew chief. In 2007, Hill worked in the now-defunct NFL Europe league as a line judge.

Hill has worked as a line judge and as a field judge in the NFL. He didn’t receive any playoff games as a line judge but found his stride at field judge where he has worked the post-season. He auditioned for referee in the 2013 pre-season, but has not auditioned since then. Since the NFL is giving him  playoff games, he may be back in the mix for referee.

Hill will work at referee in pre-season Week 3 or Week 4.


Barry Anderson (Oakland Raiders)

Barry Anderson

Barry Anderson  has been an umpire, side judge and a field judge since joining the NFL in 2007.   He has collegiate experience at the referee position. He was seen and heard in the NFL Network’s  SoundFX  in 2013 when  he issued a sideline warning  on the Raiders bench when they encroached the sideline border during the game.

Anderson had rare playoff appearances as a deep wing. The NFL moved him to umpire in 2015 and last year he worked a playoff.

With more experience at the umpire position, Anderson could have a future at referee, but after 10 seasons the window of opportunity may be closing.

Anderson will work at referee in a Week 3 or Week 4 pre-season game.


Clay Martin (Philadelphia Eagles)

Clay Martin

Martin came to the NFL in 2015 after officiating in Conference USA (video), including time at referee where he called the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl.  

Last season Martin officiated a wild card playoff game in his first season of eligibility.

At age 41, Martin has time on his side to eventually become a referee. It will be interesting to see if he stays in the mix in the coming seasons.

This is his first season auditioning for referee, either in pre-season Week 3 or Week 4.


Future openings

Several current referees could potentially retire in the coming years. It is critical for the NFL to find the right officials to step into the referee position. While pre-season games aren’t very exciting, be sure to watch these five officials wear a different color cap!


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Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"

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