Brian Brumfield used to be one of those guys giving the referees an earful from his living room couch every time he watched a football game.
"I was always yelling at officials on TV, 'Hey, you missed that call,' and someone said, "You should go out and try it if you think you're that good,'" Brumfield said. "And I thought, 'You know what? I should.'"
Three years ago, Brumfield, who played high school football in Louisiana, got back into the game.
Now, he's the one who sometimes gets an earful while officiating high school games in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association as a member of the Maryland Board of Football Officials.
"I like sports, I like to be involved and I was past my playing days," he said, "so I figured what a great way to stay active, stay relevant and stay involved with football."
Brumfield will be back on the field in September and he would urge other football fans and referee critics to give officiating a try. The Maryland Board, which always has openings for new refs, provides a three-year training program that gives officials in-game experience right away, working junior varsity and varsity games.
Patrick Nagle, a past president of the Maryland Board, played football at Loyola Blakefield and at Holy Cross. Twelve years ago, he donned the zebra stripes.
"I would recommend it, because when younger guys are finished with football — their college careers or even their high school careers — it's a great way to stay in touch with the game," said Nagle, 60. "You're right on the field in the middle of the action. Last year, I did the McDonogh-Gilman game — the 100th game — and it was great to be part of the game. You're in that whole atmosphere, which is exciting."
Rob Miller, heading into his ninth season with the Maryland Board and his fifth as a college referee with the Northeast Conference, said, "I enjoy standing out there in the fall, even in the rain or the snow, with hundreds of people. It's just an awesome feeling to be part of the game that you love."
Many officials who work with the Maryland Board hone their skills by officiating recreation games while others move up to officiate college games. One former Maryland Board official, Jonah Monroe, now works NFL games.
For high school officials, however, the pinnacle is being chosen to ref a game like the McDonogh-Gilman rivalry, the Calvert Hall-Loyola Turkey Bowl or a state championship.
Miller, 35, officiated the Turkey Bowl last season and a state championship game in 2014, both at M&T Bank Stadium and on live television.
"I'll never forget working the state final, standing on the 50-yard line at [the] Ravens' stadium with the national anthem playing," the Kenwood graduate said. "Who would have ever thought, seven or eight years ago when I started this, that I would ever get that opportunity? Officiating has taken me more places — and even more for guys like Jonah — than we ever would have dreamed when we first started."
Miller said he has met good friends through officiating where there's a brotherhood to show you the ropes. Even though they're competing for the big games, they "hang out and socialize" after Monday meetings.
It's also a great way to make a few extra bucks with refs earning $55 for a JV game and up to $85 for some varsity games, said Jay Buck, a fourth-year referee and public relations director for the Maryland Board.
Officials meet every Monday night during football season for a couple of hours at Woodlawn High School. They evaluate tape and go over rules.
"The main goal is to understand the rules, understand the mechanics, positioning, where to be on the field, the right angles," Buck said. "When you're 55 years old, you're not going to chase a 17-year-old down the field. You have to be in the right position."
In his first year, Buck worked a McDonogh game with a veteran chain crew behind him that included Monroe and two other college veterans.
"That night around 11, I get an email from Jonah Monroe saying, 'Here's what you did really good,' and it's an inch and a half, and 'Here's what you need to work on,' and it's a page and half," Buck said. "I thought he was spot on and I'm a sponge, because I want to learn as much as I can."
Each official, no matter how good he gets, experiences those moments when coaches disagree with him, players get upset or fans yell.
"It's the only thing I've ever done in my life where from day one, you're supposed to be perfect and get better from there," Miller said. "Even at the highest levels, guys make errors, but that's life isn't it? You're going to screw up at times and it's all about learning from it. When you've got somebody screaming and hollering at you, you just try to be water to that spark as opposed to gasoline."
Brumfield said, "You want the game to go on as if you're not really there. They don't come to the game to watch the officials; they come to watch a good game."
Sitting on his living room couch on a fall Sunday afternoon, Brumfield doesn't watch NFL games the way he used to.
"Once you start doing this, when you watch the game, you're going to watch the officials more than you watch the football game," Brumfield said. "You're watching the officials and their mechanics. Whenever they throw a flag on the field, I find myself watching that to see why they do it. We watch hours and hours of film, so for me it's another opportunity to watch people on the field that I respect."
For information about becoming a football official, go to the Maryland Board of Football Officials' web site, mbfo.org.