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John Harbaugh on NFL hiring line judge Sarah Thomas: 'She's a good ref'

New NFL official Sarah Thomas smiles in the second half of a preseason game last season between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Diego Chargers.
New NFL official Sarah Thomas smiles in the second half of a preseason game last season between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Diego Chargers. (Stephen Brashear / Associated Press)

Hired Wednesday as the first permanent NFL female official, Sarah Thomas has already made a lasting impression on the Ravens.

Thomas worked one of the Ravens' preseason games last year and acquitted herself well, coach John Harbaugh said.

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"We had her in the preseason last year and she did a good job," Harbaugh said Wednesday during a predraft press conference. "She's got to be one of the better ones we have. So, it's about time. Get these guys straightened out a little bit, get these gals in there. She's a good ref, so it was a good choice."

Thomas was hired as a line judge, one of eight new officials who have graduated from the league's officiating development program. Her hire was first reported last week by The Baltimore Sun.

Thomas will become the second female to officiate an NFL regular-season game. Shannon Eastin was a line judge for the first three games of the 2012 season during an officials lockout.

Thomas previously worked Conference USA college football games.

"I did not set out to become an NFL official, but the further along I went in the progression, in Conference USA, part of me thought it might be a reality," Thomas said during a national conference call. "You work every game and hope to be asked back to work the next one. My goal has always been to be the best line judge I can be. I feel honored and blessed to be in the National Football League now."

Thomas worked New Orleans Saints practices and an Indianapolis Colts minicamp as part of the NFL officiating development program. She also officiated the United Football League championship game in 2010.

A resident of Brandon, Miss., Thomas is married with three children and also works as a pharmaceutical sales representative. She attended the University of Mobile on a basketball scholarship.

She became the first woman to officiate a bowl game when she was picked to work the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl between Marshall and Ohio. NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino recently informed her she could join the pro ranks.

"When I was playing sports it never entered my mind, but once I got into the high school associations and then into college, the competitive side of me didn't want to stop there," Thomas said. "Fortunately enough, I got a call from Dean."

Thomas said her mentor, Gerry Austin, a retired NFL official who was her supervisor in Conference USA, told her to tuck her long blonde hair into her cap so it would not stick out. Austin also told her not to wear makeup.

"I told him he was crossing the line there," Thomas said. "It's just the mindset of an official that you don't want to be seen or noticed."

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