After a few years of pandemic-related absence, the NFL will return to auditioning officials for the referee position.
The NFL hopes the newly-appointed referee is young enough to put in 10-15 years at the referee position. It helps if the official put in time at the referee position during college or during other spring pro leagues. In prior years the prospective referees worked a preseason game as an audition, but having an official work as a referee in the XFL and USFL leagues may suffice as an audition.
While helpful, the NFL does not require an official to work as a referee in college in order to be a NFL referee. Dale Hamer and Walt Anderson, current NFL senior vice president for officiating, did not have major college referee experience before getting the NFL white hat.
For the first time since 2019, officials will audition for referee during a preseason game. This gives the official a chance to work a game, get used running a game, signal and announce penalties, possibly participate in instant replay reviews and get valuable feedback from the league. The audition also gives the officiating office confidence that the trainee is ready to become a full-time referee.
During these test games, a mentor referee (the white hat usually assigned to that particular crew) will stay on the sidelines and provide feedback during stoppages.
We asked the league for information on who was scheduled to get a referee tryout, but they declined. Listed here are the officials who are confirmed to be getting a preseason audition at referee and others who could get a tryout (we will update the list as we get more information).
2023 preseason referee auditions
Alex Moore is beginning is second NFL season at umpire. He broke in last year and wears number 49. Moore comes to the NFL from the SEC where is was referee for some high-profile games. Perhaps the biggest game that he white-hatted was the 2021 Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn.
He also worked in the USFL as a referee.
Because first-year officials are not eligible for playoff assignments by rule, Moore has not yet had an opportunity in the NFL postseason.
Moore worked as a referee during the Week 1 preseason game between the Packers and Bengals. His regular crew chief, Bill Vinovich, was on hand to mentor.
Duane Heydt worked as a referee for the preseason Week 2 Browns-Eagles preseason game. He is entering his second year as a NFL umpire. He wears number 42.
Heydt has worked in the USFL and as a referee in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Perhaps his biggest game as a referee was the 2022 National Championship Game — his last college game before going to the pros.
Heydt also has not yet had an opportunity in the NFL postseason, having only completed his first season. Brad Allen, an ACC alum, will be on the sideline.
Ramon George is beginning his eighth season as a NFL umpire. He wears number 128. He worked his college ball in Conference USA, working several bowl games. While in the pros, he has consistently worked playoff games when eligible, including last season’s AFC Championship Game between the Bengals and Chiefs and the 2020 Bills-Chiefs AFC title game. In the 2021 postseason, George was in the national spotlight when the Cowboys lost their Divisional Playoff to the 49ers when the clock ran out. It was poor play selection to blame, as George handled the spot exactly as required and showed tremendous hustle in doing so. It is the type of mobility a referee must have, as the primary key is to cover the quarterback.
Conventional wisdom did not have George on the radar for referee, as our records indicate that he did not officiate at the referee position at the major college level or spring pro leagues. But as we noted earlier, the white hat is not exclusively reserved for college referees.
George will work the Week 2 Colts-Bears game with his new crew chief, Brad Rogers, observing.
Brandon Cruse enters his second season at the umpire position, wearing number 22. He will be the referee for the Raiders-Rams Week 2 preseason game. Referee Carl Cheffers will be present.
Cruse has several years of referee experience, having officiated in the Mountain West and Big 12 conferences as a referee, plus being a referee in the AAF and XFL. Cruse was the referee for the 2021 National Championship Game between Alabama and Ohio State.
Like Moore and Heydt, Cruse was not eligible for a playoff assignment in his first season.
Keep your eyes open for these officials to potentially audition in Week 3 of the preseason, or in subsequent preseasons next year and beyond.
Jonah Monroe is entering his ninth season in the NFL. He has worked as a side judge for the first eight years. This year, he is working as a back judge.
He wears uniform 120. He’s been assigned to five playoff games: two wild card games, two divisional games and the 2021 AFC Championship Game.
He was an alternate in Super Bowl LVI.
Monroe worked in the American Athletic Conference mostly as a deep wing, but worked some non-conference games as a referee. He auditioned for referee in 2019 and was listed as an emergency referee in case of a pandemic situation in 2020.
Don Willard is entering his sixth season in the NFL, all at side judge. He wears number 58. Willard has worked three playoff games: one wild card and two divisional playoff games. Before working in the pros, Willard was a Big 10 side judge and referee, including post-season assignments at both positions.
Along with Monroe, Willard auditioned for referee in 2019 and was an emergency referee in 2020.