Stockton princpal talks path to NFL refereeing

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Hundreds of people eat, sleep and breathe sports.

A 2011 National Football League poll showed 64 percent of Americans watch the NFL on Sundays.

Fans cheer for their teams to win and watch for their favorite players to make a catch or touchdown.

A negative side to the game is that fans sometimes don’t like the game officials. Football fans think NFL referees favor one team over another.

In reality, referees enforce the rules and see that the game runs smoothly.

Peter Morelli, a Stockton resident and Principal of St. Mary’s High School, has been an NFL Referee since 1997.

Morelli started officiating out of high school when his father and uncle got him involved refereeing high school football. Starting out, he worked freshmen and the JV games.

After working his assignment, Morelli would stay to observe the varsity game to pick up pointers from veteran officials.

Morelli said he “wasn’t sure if he would fall in love with officiating or have the passion for it but since he played the game of football it was a way for him to stay involved.”

When he was 20, Morelli decided to start officiating junior college football games. By the time he was 24, he had his own crew where he became the head referee.

Morelli said he worked 18 years officiating at the high school level.

He then moved up to Division I.

In 1989, Morelli became principal of St. Mary’s and was refereeing Division I. He stopped working high school games to devote more time to the college level.

In Division I, Morelli was assigned to work the Santa Clara and St. Mary’s College game, which was now NFL White Hat referee Bill Leavy’s crew.

Leavy, who usually took the lead role, let Morelli be in charge for the game.

Morelli said he was excited because it was a televised game and he got to wear the microphone and announce to the stadium.

What Morelli didn’t know was there was an NFL Scout at the game to observe Leavy, because he had an application in with the NFL.

After the game, the scout asked Morelli if he had submitted an NFL application. Morelli answered no. The scout encouraged him to apply.

He did and was accepted.

The process is a lot tougher to get into the NFL as an official.

“The top three things they look for,” Morelli said, “is if you are athletic looking, good demeanor, and communicate well with coaches and players.”

Once the NFL has determined a person is fit and serious, the league does a psychological profile test to see if candidates can handle stress. After that, there is an extensive FBI background check.

Morelli has worked with the NFL since 1997.

He said the biggest thing fans of the game don’t understand is how many hours he and fellow officials put in during the week to prepare themselves for the games.

Morelli said he personally reviews film he receives from the NFL for his next game assignment to give him an idea of what to expect from the teams.

It’s more than just showing up to the stadium on Sunday mornings, working the game and then leaving the moment the game ends.

All the preparation starts back in early July for him with the start of training camp.

Morelli encourages anyone interested in becoming a football official to start out working at the high school level by contacting the NCOA South Football Association.