Making the Call
Steve Woods Prepares For Third Season As An NFL Official
Photography provided by the NFL & JWcreative.indy
Throughout the upcoming NFL season, Johnson County residents will be able to watch one of their own on the field. It won’t be a player, however. Rather, it’s one of the officials who works diligently to keep each and every game running smoothly.
Steve Woods, a native and resident of Franklin, is now in his third season as an NFL official, having started his journey in football officiating 20 years ago.
After graduating from Wabash College, where he played football and studied English and philosophy, Woods took a job with a sports marketing company that eventually brought him to Dallas in the early 1990s. During a workout class at his local athletic club, one of his fellow exercisers asked if he’d ever considered officiating football games.
“I didn’t even know how people get started in officiating, but it got my interest going enough to look into it,” says Woods, who works as a financial advisor with Raymond James in Greenwood. “It’s crazy how one question changes the entire trajectory of your life.”
Woods promptly got busy learning his new craft at local bantam leagues, eventually calling high school and small college games. In 2008, a new challenge came when he was hired into the Mid-American Conference and found himself officiating at the Division I collegiate level. By 2012, the Big Ten conference had officially brought him on board.
Woods says officiating at the college level requires a high level of dedication in many respects.
“In order to get noticed for college conference officiating, you have to attend clinics that require a financial commitment on your part – I went to clinics in Michigan, Ohio and California,” he says. “And on top of that, you’re working college scrimmages, sometimes for free, just to get noticed. It’s just the way you have to do it.”
In 2015, Woods was invited to participate in the National Football League’s Officiating Development Program, which gives college-level officials exposure to the NFL officiating experience. Invitees attend meetings and study game film with NFL officials and participate in NFL training camps and mini-camps.
“It’s the pool of candidates that the NFL hires from, so getting into that was another rung in the ladder,” Woods says. “There’s no guarantee that you’ll get in, but you’re a step closer.”
Throughout 2015 and 2016, while continuing to officiate at the collegiate level, Woods worked a Philadelphia-Baltimore matchup that happened to be Tim Tebow’s last pro game. In the spring of 2017, he got a phone call that he describes as “surreal”.
“I got a call from (former NFL vice president of officiating) Dean Blandino, and he said they’d like to hire me,” Woods says. “It was absolutely nuts. I still have a screenshot of the call – it was April 24 at 3:09 p.m. Then I spent some time calling everyone who had helped me out, which was great.”
Woods’ current official position is umpire, which involves standing behind the offensive line to keep an eye on blocks, as well as observing the line of scrimmage during pass plays.
Preparation is the name of the NFL officiating game – Woods’ prep for each game starts immediately after the previous week’s game during his flight home when he reviews the game film. The following day he continues analyzing film from multiple angles and receives a grade on his previous game performance.
“The supervisors will ask us questions about particular plays, and we get graded on every minute of every game,” Woods says. “On Wednesday we get our final grades, receive our weekly quiz, watch training tapes, and by Thursday and Friday we’re watching film on the next team. So by the time game day hits, you’re done preparing. The game itself is the best part of the week.”
Woods says his direct experience with players throughout his first two seasons has been surprisingly altercation-free.
“I won’t name any names, but some of the guys with the worst reputations are actually the nicest,” he says. “You’re going to get yelled at once in a while and tempers are going to flare, but it’s our job to always keep our cool and be the adults out there.”
In July, Woods will find out which preseason games he’ll work, and he looks forward to his third season this fall with relish and appreciation for how far he’s come.
“You’ve got to put in the work, and you can’t cheat the grind,” he says. “As much as I’m in the limelight now and hear people say how they’d love to do what I’m doing, there aren’t many people who want to go and get their hands dirty and do the heavy lifting. But it’s what you have to do.