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Bengals1181
06-28-2014, 10:20 AM
Chesapeake's Crocker ready to change his stripes



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By Tom Robinson (http://hamptonroads.com/2007/10/tom-robinson)
The Virginian-Pilot

© June 28, 2014If NFL officials are zebras, NFL players are lions. They co-exist in the same 100-yard habitat, but the alliance is uneasy with forced, but necessary, respect given by the beasts to the striped whistle blowers.
"You just really look down at the officials," said Chesapeake's Chris Crocker, who has played defensive back in the NFL for 11 seasons. "I don't know what that's about."

Yet, as Crocker, 34, nears retirement - he hopes to play this season but is unsigned - he's developed such an affinity for officials that, hold on to your helmet, he wants to be one.

The former Deep Creek High and Marshall University star has trained for two years in the NFL's "Football Officiating Academy," a program aimed toward drawing men and women into officiating at all levels.

Crocker, however, stands out within an initiative to introduce current and retired players to officiating. Fourteen former players - and Crocker, the lone active player - are earning their stripes, according to the NFL.

The academy "provides players a way to stay connected to the game while enhancing the perception of officiating and expanding the pool of officials," Terell Canton, the academy's program manager, wrote in an email. "Coupled with knowledge of the game and credibility, their experience on the field could lead to a successful transition and career."

Only two ex-NFL players, Steve Freeman and Phil McKinnely, are NFL officials. Crocker hopes to join them as a back judge, policing his familiar turf in the secondary.

"I'm already in my mid-30s; I don't have 20 years to take the time to try and make it back" to the NFL, Crocker said. "So this program is really about seeing if it can be expedited."

According to Canton, it typically takes as many as 15 years for an aspiring ref to gain NFL consideration, but a few recently retired players already have landed Division I college jobs.

"The end goal is to have former players return to the field in stripes within five to eight years," Canton wrote.
Crocker's progress was delayed last year when Cincinnati picked him up in late September. He played the rest of the season with the Bengals. Before then, he was working pee-wee and junior varsity high school games in the Atlanta area, where he lives with his wife and daughter; another girl is due in August.

After the season he returned to schooling, attending clinics, picking brains of NFL officials he's befriended, even working 7-on-7 high school scrimmages. This fall, he said he'll work high school games - until or unless he signs for a 12th season after training camps end.

"Nobody really wants to go to training camp," Crocker said with a laugh. "If I don't play, I'll just continue on with my progression."

Crocker said officiating never crossed his mind during his prime playing days. But a few years ago, as he began to sort through usual ways to stay connected to the game, such as coaching or broadcasting, Crocker said he began to really notice and strike up conversations with officials.

Coincidentally, the NFL launched its effort to develop fresh officials by pushing the option in its career-transition program. Crocker attended his first clinic in Baltimore after the 2012 season and, he said, "all of sudden, here we go."

That set up an interesting dynamic in the locker room.

"At the beginning, guys were like 'I can't believe you're doing something like that,' " said Crocker, who said he now has players quizzing him about getting involved.

"Even coaches laughed at me. Then when they found out more about it, we were laughing together; they'd say, 'Man, this is a great idea.' I'd bring my flags out to practice, just have fun with it."

Crocker said coaching was especially unattractive to him because of the long hours and unstable lifestyle. Officiating will at least allow him to anchor in Atlanta as he tackles climbing that ladder as quickly as he can.
He said he hopes to be worthy of landing a high-level college job within five years.

"Obviously, there's a lot of work that goes into that," he said. "I know plenty of college officials who get to Division I and they love their conference and, hey, this is enough.

"I don't know if I'll feel that way when I get there, because I know I want to get back to the league."

Crocker said he's buoyed because he and all the former players have access to "the best of the best" mentorship from the officiating academy.

"It's bigger than just me getting back to the NFL, the program is really about creating an interest at all levels," said Crocker, who last month helped run an officiating clinic for teenage girls in Staten Island, N.Y.

"It's all about creating awareness and getting people interested. I'm just part of it."

Tom Robinson, 757-446-2518, tom.robinson@pilotonline.com
Twitter at @RobinsonVP

mongo
06-28-2014, 10:45 AM
Maybe mid season, Crocker will get resigned and throw a flag on himself. :p