Become a Football Official
"The 2 minute Drill"


Each of these plays below should take about 2 min to watch and read about the rules, mechanics and philosophy application. None of us are immune to making mistakes, as hard as we try not to. This page is in no way intended to single out any official or crew, it is simply to help us learn from each other. Taking in 2 minutes of training will help you master your craft.

Helping the Runner: NFHS "Point of Emphasis" in 2023

Rule 9-1 states it is a foul for a teammate to "push, pull, or lift the runner to assist his forward progress". HS coaches are notorious copycats. They watch football on Sat and Sun just like the rest of us and when they see a successful play they often will mimic it. This is a play made famous by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2022 when they ran it with success many times in short yardage situations. However, NFL, NCAA, and NFHS rule codes are vastly different. While it is legal in HS to push the pileit is not legal to directly push the runner. This 2 play set shows exactly that. This is the same team in successive weeks, using the same formation with 2 backs directly behind the QB under center, who push the runner directly in the back. This is not "pushing the pile". This is attempting to get an unfair advantage and is a foul. If the calling official (most likely the referee) is in doubt whether it is a pile push or assisting the runner, he should not call a foul. These two plays leave no doubt however. Play 1 is at the B-1 and play 2 is a 4th and 1 situation. 

Scroll further down on this page for an example of pulling the runner.

Chop block and hold missed

The left tackle and center commit a dangerous chop block on the defensive tackle that is missed by the crew. It appears that the left tackle is trying to cut block the linebacker shooting the gap and misses, hitting the defensive tackle. This is a foul and we must be vigilant to get these dangerous blocks. Just because the intent to foul likely wasn't there doesn't mean it's not a foul. Unfortunately the player getting blocked suffered a leg fracture on this play and is out for the rest of the season. While calling the foul would not have prevented this injury, it is something for us to get better at, and we must. The NNFOA wishes this player a speedy and healthy recovery.

Also there is a quite obvious takedown hold on the edge of the play that springs the runner that goes unnoticed by the H. 

Big hit on receiver: is this a foul in HS?

First, we must recognize that NCAA rules and NFHS rules are different, sometimes by quite a bit. Targeting was called on this play (auto review in NCAA) and was properly overturned by the replay official. It validates how difficult it is to get targeting calls right in real time 100% of the time, even by experienced college officials.

Let's review NFHS rule 9-4-3(g) "No player shall make any other contact with an opponent, including a defenseless player, which is deemed unnecessary or excessive and which incites roughness". 9-4-3(m) prohibits targeting (defined in Rule 2-20). The NCAA does not have a rule similar to 9-4-3(g). Under NCAA code it's targeting or nothing. In 2023, NFHS code (2-32-16) was modified to include a receiver in the act of or just after catching or attempting to catch a pass as "defenseless", and protected from forceful contact unless the contact was a result of (1) playing the ball, or (2) intiated with open hands, or (3) a wrap style tackle attempt by the defender. 

This hit by Georgia #22 is forceful contact, and none of the 3 exceptions above are met and would be a personal foul if it was in high school. As officials we need to change our mindset from is it targeting to was the player defenseless, was the contact forceful, and were any of the 3 exceptions met. If you notice the targeting aspect as well, then great, call it targeting as you should, but the argument here is any targeting foul or close to targeting will almost always meet the definition of 9-4-3(g) also, which is much easier to rule on. We must protect our student athletes for the health of the players and the good of the game.

Side note: OSU WR Marvin Harrison Jr. was likely concussed on this play and didn't return. If you take a second look you'll notice that his mouthpiece was out and dangling the entire play. This has been a trend in both the NFL and NCAA for several years where officials have not enforced equipment regulations. HS athletes want to mimic what they see on Sat and Sun. Could Harrison's concussion have been prevented had he worn his mouthpiece properly? We will never know. OSU's star WR was knocked out and Georgia came back to win. More importantly, Harrison suffered a serious injury. As officials we have a duty to protect the athletes from "style" trends like this that put them at risk. If a player's mouthpiece is out, it's time to sit out a play so he can fix it's "defectiveness".

Army/Navy blocked punt: What is "force"?

"If something crazy happens, it's usually a kicking play". This has been a truism known by officials since the game was invented. This is a college play but many of the same concepts and mechanics apply to high school. Force (called 'impetus' in NCAA) is defined in Rule 2-13. It is a concept that many officials struggle with, primarily because these plays are very rare. The definition of a muff, Rule 2-27, is also important on this play.

Keep in mind D1 crews are 9 strong and enjoy the presence of a Center Judge, and a replay official who are critical to helping rule on this play. We don't have that luxury. Imagine this was a HS game. The R is likely the only person who will be in position to rule on this. Questions the R must process quickly: What force puts the ball in the end zone? is the contact of the loose ball by the defense (Army) a factor, or is it disregarded? Why? There are two major lines to cover on this play, first the goal line, then the end line. How does the R get in position to rule on both in that amount of time? When is possession gained? What factors are important to see so close to the end line? It is easy to see why we as officials must be agile and athletic as possible, as the game can move quickly as it does here. 

This crew did an excellent job covering and ruling on this extremely challenging play. Athleticism, superior mechanics, and mastery of rules and philosophies will help you get ready to rule on surprise plays such as these.

"Hands to face" foul by B and new basic spot rule

NFHS code does not have a specific "Hands to the face" personal foul like the NCAA does. However 9-2-1a and 9-2-3a prohibit "using a blocking technique not permitted by rule as in 2-3-2 and 2-3-5". Rule 2-3-2 says that a blocker's hands must be inside the frame of the body and the frame of the body is defined at the shoulders or below other than the back (also note the runner is excepted from 9-2-1). Watch the actions of B60, the left defensive tackle on this play. He gets two hands into the opponent's face then follows up with a sustained push against the face mask with an open hand. This was not noticed by the Umpire but this is an illegal use of hands foul. It is a 10 yard penalty, signal 42 (same signal as holding). Had he grabbed and twisted or pulled on the face mask it would be a major face mask foul, 15 yards.

Under the 2023 change in the basic spot for foul enforcement on running plays in rule 10-4, it states fouls behind the LOS by EITHER Team A and B will be enforced from the previous spot (with a few exceptions). The end of the run is the A-36. This would have been the enforcement spot in 2022. The previous spot is the A-39. Under the new rule, the foul would be enforced from here.

Foul enforcement is always a crew responsibility, and with a major new rule change like this one, every crew member must give added focus to ensure we get it right!

Catch/fumble or incomplete?--LJ mechanics and philosophy application

In 5 official mechanics, wings should hold their position at the LOS until the pass is thrown. This allows them to be settled and rule properly on short zone passes. This is a close play, and the LJ applies excellent mechanics, judgement, and philosophy to rule this an incomplete pass. Our "when in doubt" philosophy on catch/fumble or incomplete is to rule incomplete (Nevada Football Manual, Appendix B). Although the receiver does catch the ball and has control for a split second, there is not a "football move" or element of time long enough for possession to be established. Therefore the correct call is incomplete. 

Knowing this is a close play, the LJ sells his call strongly, giving 3 swipes instead of the usual 1 swipe. This is a superbly officiated play that helps generate credibility and confidence in the crew by spectators, players, and coaches.

Umpire: The Field Marshall

The Umpire position can be the most rewarding on a crew. However it takes intestinal fortitude and a true love of the game to master. Many officials simply refuse to step into the "eye of the hurricane" and would rather work perimeter positions, and that's okay. Those that take on this responsibility, do much more than merely spot the ball. The umpire commands the field and controls the tempo of the game. They are rewarded with an intimate involvement in the game that cannot be duplicated. The best "war stories" of officiating usually involve the Umpire.

Elite umpires are athletic, and must move like a cat from sideline to sideline. They are excellent communicators, policing the pile with their presence and voice. Notice on this play the Umpire set and ready for the snap; when the play is over you see him go to the pile quickly, talking to the players the entire time. The Umpire's presence and demeanor is the biggest single factor in keeping players from "crossing the line" with each other, or allowing shenanigans to happen which make for a long, arduous game. 

Umpires must be masters of the rules, ensuring proper rulings and foul enforcement. Although the Referee is the face of the crew, the crew's efficiency and success or lack thereof rests in large part on the Umpire's performance. The NNFOA is fortunate to have several umpires that aspire to this calling, and are always looking for a few more good men or women to take on the role and meet the standard set by Andrew Siderius, who was taken from us much too soon. 

Do you have what it takes to be the Man in the Middle?

Forward Progress spots: What is "double action"?

Forward progress spots are a very basic, yet critical part of officiating football. It truly is the essence of the game: One team trying to move the ball forward and the opponent trying to stop them. When we use the term "double action", we are referring to the action after the ball is legally dead. 

This is a two play clip showing both wing officials properly NOT granting double action progress. The first is a long run where the runner is down just prior to the B-40, then has a "double action" slide to the B-38. The LJ properly kills the clock for the first down and marks the spot at the 40 (we are not going to spot the ball for a new series between the tick marks so this is proper). He doesn't give the runner the extra 2 yards he didn't earn. On the second play, the runner is stopped at the B-43 behind the LOS and driven backwards, landing at the B-46. The HL spots the ball at the B-43, where progress was stopped, not granting the defense the extra 3 yards they didn't earn. 

Many wing officials simply go to where the ball ends up, granting double action play, probably because it's easy to do, taking less concentration and effort. The superior wing official will pride himself/herself on accurate spots, giving the runner or defense all that was earned and no more.

Great job by both of these wing officials on these 2 plays, not only properly marking progress but showing excellent dead ball mechanics.

Back Judges: How's your footwork?

Do you think being a back judge in 5 man mechanics is easy? Think again! When the back judge is in play, he is often marooned on an island with no chance of rescue. This is a good and experienced back judge who got trapped by sloppy footwork and poor presnap positioning. His key is the #3 receiver on the top (we count from the sideline in). The mistake here is he faces his key and his hips are not square to the line of scrimmage at the snap, and he is also flat footed. As a back judge you must "defend the field" from sideline to sideline. His key is not "pressed" so first read should be the QB. High school QBs are unsophisticated and lock on to their primary target. This happens immediately after the snap on this play and is obvious by how the QB turns his hips and shoulders to the isolated receiver at the bottom.

Here, primarily due to his presnap positioning and footwork, the BJ recognizes the play late and never catches up. He is moving when the catch is made and should be settled on the end line to make this call. The WR makes a good catch in the corner with one foot in and possession of the ball, but is ruled incomplete and out of the endzone. On the plus side, the BJ sells his call hard, even though he's incorrect. "If you're wrong, be wrong strong". 

Back Judge--not for the faint of heart!

You Make the Call: False start or Encroachment?

Watch the actions of the QB on this play. 7-1-7-b says it is a false start if "any act is clearly intended to cause B to encroach". The first slight body movement I think we can all agree is nothing, but what about the second, more exaggerated body hitch and shoulder dip? Does this rise to the level of calling a false start foul on the QB? This is the Referee's call. The wing officials should not be looking at the QB, but are focused on the line--they properly rule encroachment. However if the R judges this to be a false start, he can and should overrule the wing official. This is admittedly close to that threshold. Whether it crosses the line is up to the R. If the R rules this to be legal, certainly a warning is in order here.

Kickoffs-enforcement philosophy

On kickoffs, Rule 6-1-3a says no K player (except for the kicker or holder) may be beyond K's restraining line until the ball is kicked. The restraining line is a vertical plane, like the goal line. Think of it as  a window pane. A violation is a 5 yard dead ball foul for encroachment. Here it appears that player 5 (we count them 1-5 from sideline going to middle) on the L's side has his knee/leg over the line as the ball is kicked and the L calls a foul. This was the opening kickoff of the game.

However, while technically a foul by rule, this call is improper due to our philosophy. Our philosophy is on deep kickoffs, do NOT call a foul for encroachment until the player has at least one foot down 1 yard into the neutral zone. On plays like this, keep the flag in your pocket. Now, had it been an onside or short pooch kick, the philosophy changes--in that case any player who "breaks the window pane" prior to the kick should be called for a foul, as he is gaining an unfair advantage in trying to recover the kick. 

It has been said "don't let the rules get in the way of the game"...applying officiating philosophies properly helps us do that.

A list of officiating philosophies is found in Appendix A of the Nevada State Football Manual. Check it out.

Kickoffs : The hardest play to officiate!

Watch the actions of R52. He is the player at the bottom lined up at the R-48. On a kickoff, we have 5 officials to watch 22 players spread all over the field running at full speed. It is exceedingly difficult. When the play collapses to one side as it does here, it makes it even more so. It is unknown why both of these fouls were missed, but it often occurs when we are too focused on the ball carrier and not what is going on around him. Certainly 1 official is usually on the ball carrier, unless he is completely in space. We must be disciplined to know when to turn our attention to the ball and trust our crew to each officiate his/her area. The exact spot on the return is not all that important, getting these safety fouls is. 

The first hit was a possible illegal blindside block (it's difficult to see if the block was initiated with open hands or not from the camera angle), the second is a flagrant targeting foul worthy of disqualification. The near side coaching staff was understandably upset that these were missed. Unfortunately we will miss fouls like this from time to time. If we adhere to our mechanics and focus on our zones of responsibilty however, those instances become rarer. 

Superb pass coverage mechanics by the Wing Official

Focus on the movement, or more precisely the lack of movement by the HL on this play. In 5 man mechanics on pass play officials cover zones. A Wing Official's zone is from the LOS to 15 yards downfield. Typically, many high school wing officials move too early on pass plays. Staying put at the line of scrimmage until the pass is released allows for steady eyes and more accurate rulings. The short zone can easily be officiated from the LOS. (Keep in mind 4 official mechanics are different because there is no BJ).  On this play, a 10-12 yard "out" pass to the sideline the HL holds his position properly, then when pass is released he spins 90 degrees and straddles the sideline. He is in perfect position to rule on this tight catch at the sideline, then immediately kills the clock while marking the progress spot. Excellent, grade A officiating here.

Back Judge has learned the art of patience

Excellence at Back Judge is more often art than science, and it is mastery of the nuances of the position that distinguish superior BJs from the others. Here the ball is snapped at the B-30. Our BJ reads pass and backpedals as he is pressed by 2 receivers. He stays ahead of the play and starts to settle himself as much as possible for the "moment of truth". He is in perfect position mechanically to rule on this difficult play at the end line. It appears that the receiver gains possession airborne and his left foot lands barely inside the end line prior to his other foot landing out of bounds and going to the ground. The BJ waits until the entire process of the catch is complete, maintaining possession of the ball while surviving contact with the ground, then properly ruling TD. This is a superbly officiated play both mechanically and judgement-wise. We don't want to rush these signals, and the properly delayed, confident signal creates a measured dramatic flair which is good for the game. 

Forward Pass or fumble? 

This clip shows both sideline and end zone views. The decision on whether the QB throws an incomplete pass or fumbles the ball rests 100% with the Referee. Rule 2-31-2 defines a forward pass. On this play, the action is mistakenly ruled a fumble. Since the QB's arm was clearly going forward when the ball came loose, this is a forward pass. The Referee should be strong and emphatic on this ruling and signal. The Umpire, not hearing a whistle or the Referee yelling "Incomplete!" covers the spot and sells the call of fumble recovered by the defense. No fault of the Umpire here, as he must go with the Referee's ruling and really shouldn't have any input on the pass/fumble aspect. 

There doesn't appear to be much doubt about this play, and it may be the result of the Referee looking elsewhere or losing focus somehow. However, if there is any doubt at all, employing our philosophy will usually bail us out. The philosophy that applies here is when in doubt as to forward pass or fumble, rule it a forward pass. "When in doubt, wipe it out". Changing the call late in this case, while not ideal, would have been proper. The important thing is to get the call right and not give the defense a turnover not earned. A complete list of officiating philosophies is listed in Appendix A and B of the NIAA Nevada State Football Manual.

Illegal block in back (IBB) fouls: What is "Chase Mode"?

Block in back fouls are among the most common incorrectly called by officials. To properly consider this action, we must become familiar with the concept of "chase mode". Chase Mode has to do with the approach angle of the blocker to the blockee, (or suspect to victim if you prefer). Imagine looking at a player from above, and putting a clock face on the ground around him. His nose would be at 12:00, left shoulder 9:00, right shoulder 3:00 and his rear end 6:00. A blocker is approaching from chase mode when his approach angle to the victim is between 4:00 and 8:00. If a player is blocked from this position in the back, it is a foul (unless the free blocking zone exception applies). If he is blocked from any other position, it is NOT a block in the back. It could be a different foul such as an illegal blindside block, but not an IBB. Officials often see the fall of the player but not the approach of the block and throw a flag improperly. If you did not see the two steps before the block and did not judge it to be from Chase Mode, keep the flag in your pocket. Remember our "when in doubt" axioms from the NIAA Football Manual: when in doubt as to whether the block was in the back or from the side, rule it to be from the side.

On this play the QB keeps the ball and runs down the sideline. A13 overruns his opponent and tries to catch up and blocks B20. However the last two steps are from B20's 9:00 position. The LJ is properly trailing the play and throws a foul for an IBB, but the block was a legal block from the side. A second flag comes in from the Umpire. Both flags are incorrect calls.

Further, there is a second reason not to throw this flag. Let's presume the block was from the 8:00 position and thus a block in the back from Chase Mode. The official must also evaluate the impact on the play. We officiate based on advantage/disadvantage philosophy. The block was made at the B-21 and the runner stepped out of bounds at the B-23. The block created no advantage whatsoever as it was ahead of the end of the play. On potential live ball action, pause briefly when evaluating an action to allow your brain to process all the information, then decide. Slow flags are almost always more accurate than quick ones for live ball fouls.

Think Chase Mode, think impact on play, and your IBB calls will be correct ones.

Helping the Runner, it's still a foul!

Helping the Runner is a foul listed in 9-1. Currently the rule says simply "An offensive player shall not push, pull, or lift the runner to assist his forward progress." Although this is a rarely called foul, it does not mean it should never be called. Officiating philosophy currently across the nation is not to call a foul for "pushing" the pile from behind, because it is too difficult to discern assistance of forward progress from legitimate legal blocking, and under Advantage vs. Disadvantage officiating philosophy the advantage gained is not always clear. However on this play, there is a clear pull of the runner by a teammate (the right guard) at the A-49, that clearly assists the runner's forward progress (and helps him make the line to gain,= unfair advantage gained). This is an assisting the runner foul. Further, towards the end of the play, a second teammate positions himself in front of the runner and pulls him forward again. Both of these are fouls, and by their very nature are always behind the basic spot and therefore enforced from the spot of the foul -5 yards. 

Neither of these fouls were called. It is difficult for our brain to process something we are not used to or rarely see when we officiate games. Assisting the runner falls into that category certainly, and is likely a reason why this was missed. Superior rules knowledge, proper mechanics, and laser beam focus during the action will give you the confidence to make this unusual and rare call.  UPDATE: Helping the Runner is a "Point of Emphasis" in the 2023 NFHS Rule Book

Crew communication: Essential requirement for intentional grounding calls

Intentional Grounding is a multiple official call.  

The Referee must decide several things on this play very quickly. Was the pass thrown to conserve yardage? Yes. Was the QB out of the pocket? No. Did the contact by the defender affect the flight of the ball? Well let's discuss that. If a passer is already in his throwing motion when he is contacted by the defender, such as striking the passer's arm or body and affecting his follow through, then certainly that should enter into the Referee's judgement and he should give the benefit of the doubt to the passer and not call a foul. However, if the passer is already in the grasp of the defender when he starts his throwing motion, as is the case here, no such leeway should be given. Under this circumstance it is completely the responsibility of the passer to get the ball near an eligible receiver, or if outside the pocket, to the line of scrimmage. On this play the QB does neither. All these elements of the foul rest with the Referee to decide. 

However the foul is not complete yet, or at least the information to put it together isn't. The Referee cannot and should not know the last element of the foul, namely if an eligible receiver was in the area or if the pass made it to the LOS if the passer was out of the pocket. That information rests with his crewmates. 90+% of the time it is a wing official who makes that part of the call, but the Umpire and sometimes the BJ can help. On this play the ball lands very near the Umpire who is looking at the ball. One officlal, somebody, anybody, even the BJ, needs to immediately come in person to report this information to the Referee. Without that information no foul can be called. With it, assuming the prior elements discussed above are there, the Referee, and only the Referee, shall drop a late flag at the spot of the pass (end of run) and announce the foul, which is -5 yards and loss of down.

On this play, no information was given and no foul was called. Good crew communication is paramount to a well officiated game.

Safety? Touchback? Momentum?

The momentum rule is actually an exception to the Safety rule. It is found in 8-5-2 EXCEPTION. This is an extremely rare play, but when they happen they are always important. Here the Line Judge does a superb job of hustle, observation, judgement, and application of the rule. Let's break it down:

On this play, A5 is tackled and fumbles the ball about the B-3 or 4 yardline. B4 intercepts the fumble in flight at about the B-2 while he is running almost full speed towards his own end zone, goes into the endzone, and goes down to the ground where the ball becomes dead by rule. Without the momentum exception, this play would be a safety as B took the the ball into his own endzone and the ball became dead there.

The momentum exception applies when possession is gained of an OPPONENT's fumble or backward pass, interception of a foward pass or a scrimmage kick between between the 5 yard line and the goal line, his original momentum carries him into his own end zone, the ball remains in the end zone and becomes dead there in his team's possession.

On this play, all the requirements of the momentum exception are met. The basic spot on this play is where possession is gained, here at the B-2. The ball is awarded to team B at the B-2. This is not a touchback nor a safety. 

This play started near midfield and the great hustle by the LJ to be close enough to make a ruling on it is itself worthy of praise.

Hustle notwithstanding, the Line Judge ruled on this play perfectly, and dropped his bean bag almost immediately, which is proper mechanics. The fact that he dropped it at the B-1 not the B-2 is irrelevant. He spotted the ball correctly at the 2, and the fact that he had the presence of mind to drop the bean bag at all shows superior processing of this play. 

These plays happen so infrequently that it is easy to forget the rule and mechanics of how to officiate the play. A+ officiating by our Line Judge.

Superb mechanics at the pylon

Excellent mechanics leads to accurate and supportable rulings. On this 2 point try, both wing officials get immediately to the goal line as they should. The near wing backs well off the pylon when his pylon is threatened, and he is in perfect position to rule on this play!

Let's break down the mechanics. First it's a 2 point try. The only important line is the goal line. Get there immediately at the snap as both wings do here. The runner is close to scoring and appears to go airborne at about the 2 and stretch out for the end zone. Does he get "goal line extended"? Rule 2-26-3 says only when a runner is touching inbounds does the goal line extend beyond the sidelines. If the runner is airborne, to score the trajectory of the ball must go INSIDE the pylon, otherwise the dead ball spot is where the foremost point of the ball crossed the plane of the sideline, as the runner lands out of bounds. 

This is a lot to see, and process in a split second for the wing official. He is on an "island" as it is his call 100% and he will get no help from any of his crew. To see all these aspects of the play, get wide. Here our wing backs straight up off the pylon staying on the GL plane. Wide perspective allows him to see everything he needs to see: is the runner touching in bounds or airborne? Where is the ball? Which hand is it in (makes a big difference on this play)? Does it go inside the pylon or not if he's airborne? Does it cross the GL? 

Excellent mechanics are on display here. The ruling could be easily contested if the official is hugging the pylon or not on the goal line. In this case, any reviewer must go with the official's judgement on the field, and it does indeed appear to be short. 

NOTE: this is why we move those "G" yard line markers well back during pre game field inspection!

For a superb 19 minute video on pylon plays, check out Matt Sumstine's YouTube channel and search for pylon training.

PSK fouls - Are you the Bag Man?

PSK stands for Post Scrimmage Kick, a special type of foul. It is defined in Rule 2-16-2h and has an "abnormal" basic spot for penalty enforcement defined in 10-4-3, namely the end of the kick. On this play watch the action on the "gunner" at the top of the screen. The H calls a holding foul.

The H has a flag down for a hold on R, DURING the kick, which is one element of it being a PSK foul. Note that these types of fouls on "gunners" that occur soon after the snap almost always occur during the kick or loose ball portion of the play. The "kick" includes the snap and all action until the kick is possessed or otherwise becomes dead (10-3-1a, NOTE). On this play the kick is caught at the R-40 and returned to the K-44. The H was properly reported the foul as a PSK foul to the referee. The second clip shows the enforcement of this foul as improper, enforced from the end of the run. What happened?? The Back Judge FAILED to mark the end of the kick with his bean bag. The crew had no idea where the end of the kick was because it was not marked and the BJ couldn't remember. They decided to make the best of it and enforce the foul from the end of the run. Team R lost 16 yards of field position as a result of this mechanics error, and this error rests solely on the Back Judge. 

Whenever a punt is returned by the receiving team, the BJ (or LJ in 4 man) MUST mark the end of the kick with his bean bag, EVERY TIME. It is true that PSK fouls don't occur very often, probably less than 5% of the time, and most times if you are the BJ you will simply have to run back upfield and retrieve your bean bag. Oh well, that's why they pay you the big bucks. Consistency will make you a better back judge, a better official, and elevate your crew competence. Be the Bag Man!

May the Force Be With You! YOU MAKE THE CALL

This extremely unusual play has more layers than my wife's bean dip casserole (which is fabulous). What is force? Initial force? New force? What is an illegal kick? What is a muff? Be ready for anything, especially on kicking plays. How would you rule on this in real time?

for an in depth breakdown of this controversial play, copy and paste this link:

Subscribe to the AAHSO/Todd Allen channel for many great training videos.

A 25 yard foul?

The runner goes out of bounds at about the A-45 (remember it's where the ball crosses the sideline plane not where his foot lands) and is takes several steps OB before he is hit late by a defender (at the moment the clip ends) This is seen by the LJ who makes the proper foul call, but...

The LJ instead of marking the spot, keeping his head up and watching further DB action, for some reason goes past the spot to pick up his flag and (presumed, not seen on video) move it forward to the spot of the foul. This is improper. 

There is NEVER a reason to move a flag on the defense, the enforcement spot will ALWAYS be the basic spot. The only exception would be after a turnover and they have possession (such as an interception return, where they are now the offense). There also is NEVER a reason to move a dead ball flag as these are ALWAYS enforced from the succeeding spot (and why dead ball flags are thrown high into the air). The proper dead ball spot as noted is the A-45. 15 yard dead ball foul would move it to the B-40. In the next clip the ball is spotted at the B-30. We will not discuss the UNS foul called just after this as it is unknown what precipitated that call, and moved the ball to the B-15. Good judgement on the call, but poor mechanics gave team A 10 free yards. 

Covered TE leads to illegal touching TD that's missed.

Under our philosophy, wing officials should try to "make formations legal" when possible. Here is a case where there simply is no "blade of grass" stagger. A4 on the LJ's side is clearly up on the LOS, covering TE 82. This MUST be observed by the LJ. If it's a run, no problem. But if it's a pass...

Once 82 goes downfield there is a potential foul--ineligible downfield (IDP). The potential is realized once the pass crosses the line of scrimmage. This is when the flag should be thrown. The LJ should continue observing this player and disregard his other keys until he knows the intended target of the pass. If it is A82, and A82 touches, muffs, or catches the pass, the foul is now upgraded to illegal touching. (It is an upgrade because illegal touching includes a loss of down). If the pass goes somewhere else it remains an IDP foul. 

When the LJ counts only 3 backs in formation, he should notice the TE on his side. If A4 is even half a step back we want him ruled "back" and make 82 eligible, then talk to A4 after the play. On this play we cannot do that however, as A4 hasn't allowed the official to use "philosophy". Even though the TE is the Back Judge's key, from 20 yards deep the BJ cannot know if 82 is eligible or not. The LJ thus MUST switch keys presnap to TE 82 in this formation. 

We unfortunately miss this foul, but understanding this will make us better officials. 

Note also there is a holding foul on A72 left tackle (jerk and restrict).

Targeting - flagrant

This is a CIF playoff game from last year between Jesuit HS and Folsom HS. The runner is defenseless, and K24 comes full speed from a distance, aims, launches and leads with the crown of his helmet to the runner's head. The NNFOA Commissioner would support a DQ of this player had it been called.

These plays are tough. This foul happens in the blink of an eye and officials on the field only get one look at it. When a runner is stood up like this not moving, and an opponent is running toward the pile faster than everyone else, your radar antennae should be on and locked in. This is a violent foul designed to punish the opponent and officials must be diligent to get these hits out of the game.

Unfortunately this crew missed this hit. On kickoffs and punts especially, 22 players are spread all over the field. They are among the hardest plays to officiate well. Keep wide eyes and you'll be more likely to see this foul developing. On plays like this, we don't care about where the forward progress spot is as long as we are within a yard or so. We are going to put it on a tick mark anyway. It's better to miss the spot by 3 yards and get this foul than miss the foul and get the spot right.


The Umpire's keys are G-C-G. The Nose Tackle gets chopped here right at the snap. This is a very dangerous block and can cause severe injury. This is an obvious get for the Umpire who misses it, and dropped back into pass coverage for some reason.

4 official mechanics are tough. With no back judge deep, the wing officials have downfield responsibility. Trust your crewmates to do their job, so you can do yours. Notice that the U's initial set up is 11 yards off the ball, much too deep. Ideal set up is 6-8 yards deep between the guards and in position to see the snap. 

Mechanics manuals are written to give the crew the best coverage with the personnel they have. When we abandon our mechanics, it sets us up for failure. 

Illegal Use of Hands (IUH)/Defensive Holding

Rule 9-2-3-d. Key on #3 receiver on the left side. Once he gets on the same yard line as B13, he is no longer a potential blocker, any restrictive contact by B13 is a foul. This takes away a potential target from the QB. This is the BJ's initial key. BJ is not "ball watching" and makes a great call!

This Crew has mastered the basics of dead ball clock management

A simple play, dead ball encroachment foul by the defense. The Umpire, set and ready, hears the whistle killing the play and immediately kills the clock and covers the ball. Both wings have a flag and kill the clock and charge in. The Side Judge is also killing the clock. Excellent work by this crew

No matter your level of experience, these simple easy plays must be mastered. Dead ball officiating and clock management is a rudimentary mechanic, but one that some veteran officials get lax on, and one that newer officials need to strive for consistency in.

This game was one of the 2 Geico Bowl Championship games held in Las Vegas in December 2022. This game is between Graham-Kapowsin (WA) and Collins Hill (GA). The officiating crew is a mixed crew of Las Vegas and Reno area officials. The Washington state champs won 40-36 on a last second TD pass. The lead changed hands 6x in the second half.

Dead Ball foul responsibility

This 7 man crew missed a clear dead ball foul that occurs at the 36 yard line. The nearest official, the LJ, is likely concentrating on the progress spot, which is his job. Dead ball fouls are usually best seen by officials that are further away and having a wide angle view.

The deep wing official should be all over this foul. As a deep, on a running play like this, dead ball officiating and separating colors after the play is your primary duty. In a 5 person crew, the Back Judge, Umpire, and even the Referee have a shot at getting this. In 4 official mechanics, the U and the R.  To be a superior official, you must be a superior dead ball official! This is an excellent crew who called an excellent game overall, but even the best of us will miss things. Keep your eyes up with a wide view and you will see these fouls.

Is the foul on offense or defense?

The coordinated foot stomp at the line, causing the left tackle to move/false start, is a Disconcerting Act foul by the defense, Rule 7-1-9. The Umpire improperly called this a false start. Fortunately, it had no effect as the ensuing kick from the B-8 was good. This is a 5 yard dead ball foul on B.

Please note that under our philosophy of preventive officiating, this foul should not be called unless it actually causes a false start by A. If it has no effect, simply warn the players and coach, unless repeated warnings are ignored. 

These fouls are most common on FGs and kick trys, and on 3rd or 4th and short when the defense is trying to get a cheap 5 yards of field position. 

Swinging Gate - illegal snap and illegal shift not called

This is a classic "Swinging Gate" formation. There are variations of this. It is typically run during a try but can be run on any down. Many teams will line up this way, then shift back into a normal kick formation, or they may run a play from the Gate as happens here.

This being a 'trick' play, Our philosophy is that it must be run precisely to the rules. We grant no leeway on these and the crew must be paying attention. The offense is trying to catch the defense off guard and unprepared and unfortunately they often catch the officiating crew unprepared as well. 

This snap is illegal. Notice the snapper lift the ball up and scoop it to the back. This up and over type movement is not continuously backward. A snap must be a "quick, continuous backward motion" according to Rule 2-40-2. It is possible to snap it directly to the RB behind the gate from this position, but it must be done according to the rule. There is no requirement that the snap go between the snapper's legs. Also per Rule 7-1-3c the snapper cannot "fail to clearly pause before the snap" (emphasis added), which he does not do here. Either of these snap violations is a dead ball snap infraction foul. 

Also the lineman to the left of the snapper is moving as the snapper goes down to the ball. This is an illegal shift and should've been called by one of the two wings. A false start in lieu of an illegal shift would also have been a proper call here. Bottom line is team A did not run this play with precision and according to rule and a foul should've been called. 

This is NOT a foul in 2022 for Intentional Grounding.

Intentional Grounding is one of the 4 illegal passes found in Rule 7-5-2. The penalty is 5 yards and loss of down from the end of the run. A new exception has been added for 2022. If the passer is outside of the pocket, AND gets the pass to the LOS, he may legally conserve loss of yardage.

This passer is clearly under duress. He is also outside the pocket. These first two elements must be determined by the R. The pass clearly makes it to the LOS. This is ruled on by the wing official (most of the time, it can be the Umpire as well in certain circumstances). The wing official should point to the LOS to communicate that fact to the R. (He should also point to any eligible receiver he judges to be in the area which would negate any potential foul).

There is no eligible receiver anywhere in the area of the pass.

All elements of the exception have been met and this would be no foul in 2022, simply an incomplete pass.

(The R did not drop a flag on this play in 2021, because the wing official did not report to him there was no eligible in the area.)

Still a foul for Intentional Grounding in 2022

The ball is snapped from Position 1, near hash. The passer must make it to half way between the hash and the numbers to be "out of the pocket". Here it is close, but give the benefit of the doubt to the QB. "if in doubt, he is out" should be the philosophy employed here.

So if the R rules him outside of the pocket, the first element of the exception is met. However the pass in this case clearly does not make the LOS. The second element of the exception is NOT met, and this is a foul for intentional grounding. The R should drop his flag at the spot of the pass. 

This is one case where the R would not need info from the Wing Official as everything is within his field of vision, no eligible in the area, and pass short of the LOS. A foul in 2021 and 2022. (The R did drop a flag on this play)

Still in pocket, no eligible in area, but NOT a foul for intentional grounding.

Why not? The passer was never under duress. An element of the foul is "to conserve yardage". This element is not met. This is simply a miscommunication of the play where the WR and QB were not on the same page. The R properly judges this to be no foul. Had the QB been under heavy rush, it would be.

The passer's skill level, as well as whether his throwing motion was altered by defensive contact, should also be a factor considered by the Referee when evaluating a potential foul for intentional grounding. 

In this case it would be proper mechanics for either the Back Judge or one of the Wings to immediately report to the R there was no eligible receiver in the area. The Referee will be watching the passer for several seconds after the ball is thrown, and most of the time should have no idea what happened downfield. This is why intentional grounding is a two-official mechanic. Conversely, the second official should have no idea whether the passer was under duress or not. The second official should never throw his flag for intentional grounding; that is solely the Referee's responsibility. The second official merely supplies information needed to make the decision.

12 men: Crew gets it right, but gets it wrong. Followed by a low block on return

3 clips. (1)Team A has 12. Umpire tries to get his count but can't finish before ball is snapped. Down box changed from 2 to 3. (2) Crew finishes count and drops flag for illegal participation, 15 yards. (3) Down box still reads 3 next play, interception and LJ makes great call for BBW on return.

Many issues occur on this set of 3 plays. We always try to get our counts done before the ball is snapped. Here you see the umpire doing that but he doesn't finish in time. Had he done so, a dead ball flag for illegal substitution (5 yards) is appropriate. But sometimes this happens. It is the TEAM'S RESPONSIBILITY to play with 11, not the crew's. The crew did the right thing here and the U suspected there was 12 and they confirmed it as soon as play was over. The R dropped a late flag for illegal participation. This is proper. However, this is a live ball foul at the snap on the previous play. Notice the box person changed the down box from 2 to 3 at the very end of the first clip. This happens with parent volunteers sometimes. It is the CREW'S responsibility to count downs and ensure the proper down is displayed on the box. Nobody on the crew caught this. It is primarily on the wing officials, but it is a crew error. This is a worse error than the dreaded inadvertent whistle. On play 3 in the sequence it is 3rd down when the proper down is 2nd. Doesn't affect the game thankfully (and this was a close game) as this play results in an interception. Excellent call by the LJ who is not ball watching and gets the block below the waist on the return, he also finishes officiating the play. Good mechanics by the LJ as the runner is in space and doesn't need attention, so attention is focused properly in front of the runner and the foul is observed.  

If you as a crew member suspect the down is in error, immediately blow your whistle and kill the clock and call for a conference. It's better to stop the game and make sure we get this right than allow this error to happen.

Perfect mechanics and judgement displayed by HL on this catch play TD

Snap is at 10, first notice how the H drifts toward the goal at snap, then when he realizes the play is to corner of end zone he hustles to near 2 and gets settled. We want still eyes whenever possible, as it makes for more accurate rulings. this official has placed himself in superb position.

After getting in position to watch the action, notice his concentration, and his patience, in waiting for all elements of the catch to be complete before making a ruling. The receiver catches the ball while airborne, and his first foot touches barely inbounds then second foot out of bounds. The HL's positioning and spacing allows him enough distance to see both of these elements--distance is often our friend in officiating. Next, the player falls to the ground, and MAINTAINS CONTROL of the ball, "surviving the ground". Our HL waits for this process to finish, then gives a confident, strong TD signal. A good rule of thumb when ruling on catch plays like this where the receiver goes to the ground is if he can hand you the ball when it's over, it's a catch, if he can't, it's incomplete. 

The minor contact between the receiver and defender is incidental contact, there is no advantage gained, both are playing the ball, and is properly ruled to be no foul.

A perfectly officiated play is a joy to watch, and this is an example to follow.

Kick Catch Interference foul, of a different kind

This punt strikes K10 in the helmet while in flight at the R-42. The LJ sees this and bean bags it as First Touching by K, which is true, but it is also a KCI foul as R8 is clearly in position and attempting to catch the kick. This is the one instance where 1st touching is also a foul. Rule 6-5-6.

This is the one interference foul that does NOT require contact, unlike pass interference which does. Kicking rules (rule 6) are tough, and we must be the master of them. The fact that the "touching" was unintentional doesn't matter, the fact that the receiver was in position to catch the kick does. Had the foul been called, R's choices are -15 from previous spot and rekick, take the result of the play, or 15 yards from the spot of the foul and an awarded fair catch (the most likely choice) 6-5-6 PEN, 10-5-1-b. Also note another foul was missed here. The assistant coach in the brown coat with the clipboard is well into the Restricted Area while the ball is live (Rule 9-8-3). A sideline warning flag should have been thrown on this play by the LJ. Wing officials should not be on the field of play during the down. A further note, the Back Judge was way too far away, and should have closed distance toward the play while the ball was in flight. 

LJ properly marks unusual first touching by K violation with bean bag

After a poor snap, K5 gets off a low line drive kick. Great job by our Line Judge seeing the kick hit K19 on the foot and ricochet out of bounds. The LJ properly marks the first touching spot with a bean bag. This meets the definition of "touching" in Rule 2-44, being touched by the ball.

Also note on the above play how the LJ continues to officiate to the end of the play. All officials on the crew properly stop the clock after the ball is dead. "First touching" is not a foul, but instead a violation (which is why a bean bag is used and not a penalty flag). It is covered in Rule 6-1-7 (for free kicks) and 6-2-5 (for scrimmage kicks, as is this play). Even though the ball is in flight and touches a K player beyond the neutral zone. it is NOT a kick catching interference foul because no R player is in position to catch the ball (Rule 6-5-6 EXC). The crew properly spotted the ball at the K-49 for the next snap as that was most advantageous to team R. Note that by rule, if there is an accepted foul on the play, or if R possesses the kick and thereafter commits a foul, the right of taking the ball at the spot of First Touching is wiped out.  Know your kicking Rules! Rule 6 is among the toughest to master.

Legal "pick", Proper no call for OPI by BJ and LJ, coach protesting the no call

A20 and A23 run a cross pattern. A20 gets in the way of B3 but does not block or contact him. There MUST be contact to call either OPI or DPI. This is a legal play (and well executed). Excellent no call. The asst. coach comes on the field to protest. This is unsportsmanlike conduct by the coach.

While coaches will always lobby for calls, they are not allowed to charge onto the field to do so in an unsportsmanlike manner. This is covered under Rule 9-8-1-b,d,i. This action was not seen by the crew as the LJ was downfield and the Referee in the end zone view was dealing with a potential "hot spot" at the line of scrimmage after the play. The Referee properly directed his attention to the hotspot. Had the actions by the coach been seen however, a flag should have been thrown. If the coach asks in a professional manner why a flag wasn't thrown on the play, an explanation should be given when time allows by the covering official.

Cheez It Bowl Roughing the Passer with Change of Possession (COP)

This is a college game but this rule has the same enforcement in NFHS. RTP fouls come under special enforcement 10-5-1-g, 9-4-4 PEN. Typically it is enforced from the dead ball spot, but since there is a change of possession on the play it is enforced from the previous spot. Know your rules!

Note to above play

The Line Judge in this game is Dale Keller, who got his start right here in the NNFOA. Notice his positioning after the interception as he stays ahead of the play during the return. This is known as "reverse fade" mechanics (employed after a change of possession play), which is used in 7 and 8 official college mechanics (as well as 7 official mechanics in high school). Dale is in the NFL Development Program, so hopefully you will be seeing his skills on Sunday afternoons soon.

The Referee is Chris Coyte, who makes a superb announcement and explanation of the play. This crew officiated this unusual play perfectly, and the foul was efficiently administered, an example of a superb crew working together as a unit. Chris was our guest speaker at the NNFOA Preseason Clinic in 2018.

Crew mistakenly gives team A a new series after 4th down dead ball foul by B

Rule 5-1-2-b, Case 5.1.2.E: 4th/9 @ B-43. Line to gain B-34. Runner pushed OB at B-37. LJ flags B4 for late hit out of bounds. The crew awarded a new series to team A after enforcement. Proper ruling would have been Team B 1/10 @ B-22. Team A did not make the line to gain during the down.

Fundamental rules knowledge is the responsibility of every official, and so is proper penalty enforcement. Don't leave penalty enforcement to the referee and umpire. Save your crew if you see a mistake being made. Fortunately this large crew error had no impact on the outcome of the game. (I also don't think the dead ball contact in this case warranted a flag, but that's not the point of this play).

Scrimmage kick formation shift--is A25 now eligible??

Rule 7-5-2 EXC 2. Once the snapper puts hands on the ball the formation is set. A28's shift does NOT make the "new" end A25 eligible, A25 'remains ineligible during that down'. When A1 throws the pass, there is no eligible receiver in the area=intentional grounding. Be aware of these shifts!

Note to above play: This play occurred in 2021.

Regarding the new Intentional Grounding rule change for 2022, Rule 7-5-2 EXC 2: This would not be a foul for intentional grounding because A1 was outside the pocket (defined as the lateral side of the free blocking zone).

However, assuming this took place under the new rule, since A1 is outside the pocket, and thus now making the pass itself legal, if ineligible A25 touches the ball (it appears he does on this play), then it is a foul for illegal touching by A25. It is also a foul for ineligible downfield on A25. (You cannot have either foul on an illegal forward pass, but now that the pass would be legal, those fouls come into play). Since it was a 4th down play and illegal touching carries a 5 yard penalty AND loss of down, team B would accept that foul as they would be awarded a new series after the LOD aspect is enforced. If only the ineligible downfield foul was called, Team B would decline the foul since the pass was incomplete on 4th down and the ball is turned over on downs.

Anatomy of a holding foul (OH)

9-2-1-a,c. A70 pulls left and grabs the defender in a bear hug, a major restriction that affects the play. The LJ is on this lead block and when the runner goes past he flags it. He finishes the play and gets the spot, kills the clock, ensures U has spot before reporting. Superior call/mechanics!

Incorrect call for Ineligible receiver downfield (IDP)

Rule 7-5-12. For a foul to occur, the ineligible must be 3 yards downfield BEFORE the pass is in flight. Here the far wing (yours truly) did not follow proper mechanics and threw a bad flag for IDP that took away a nice gain. If the pass is in the air, keep the flag in your pocket!

Flagrant fouls (2 plays) TGT and UNR

Play 1-B2 launches and targets his opponent at the 30. This is a flagrant foul and the player should be DQ'd. We need to get these hits out of football. Play 2-After a legal low block (initial charge) against him, B56 stomps on his opponent on the ground. This is intent to injure and should be a DQ.

Note to above play:

These two plays are not sequential in the game (when clips are downloaded from Hudl they do not show the play #s). The first flag on play 1 was for a hold on the return at the A-42. This player was double teamed and there was little restriction, this is not a hold. The other two flags were for an apparent block in the back foul by the return team. There doesn't appear to be a block in the back foul either. The targeting foul was missed. On play 2, the umpire properly flagged the UNR foul on B-56, but the player was not DQ'd.