ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The quest to eventually become an official in the National Football League got under way Tuesday for some 20 eager trainees.
For the second straight summer, the NFL's Football Officiating Academy is in the Ohio Valley.
The eight-week program got under way Tuesday evening with introductions and some background information on the program, which will run until the end of July.
Originally, 35 had signed up for the program, which is free of charge, but only the aforementioned number showed at St. Clairsville High School.
"We're excited to have the academy back here in the Ohio Valley because football is king here," said retired NFL official and Shadyside High School graduate Ed Coukart.
On hand for the opening night were representatives of the Belmont and Ohio County Comissions, OVAC officials, West Virginia SSAC brass, football officials on the Ohio Valley Board and current NFL officials, including Tony Steratore and Tom Stabile, both of whom were on the officiating crew for Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
Steratore and Stabile addressed the class and guests.
Steratore, who serves as a back judge in the NFL, is the brother of NFL referee and major college basketball official Gene Steratore.
"My brother gets a lot more exposure than I do," Steratore joked. "The tradition of football in Ohio and western Pennsylvania is well known. Once you get away from these areas, you learn even more how strong the affection is for the sport."
Steratore's best advice to the class was that they'll get out of the class what they put into it.
"I am not sure how you can't become a better official after eight weeks," Steratore said.
Stabile, meanwhile, told the class to "never know enough."
If an official ever gets to the point where he thinks he does then his future in the business is basically sealed.
"If you think you know enough, you're on your way down," Stabile said. "Master your position, ask questions and be adaptable because there are constant changes."
During the course of the presentation, the financial benefits of officiating were addressed, but Stabile made sure the class wasn't there strictly to grab a paycheck.
"If you're doing it just for the money, you're doing a disservice to the game of football," Stabile said.
Overseeing the academy once again is Jay Kiger, who is an assistant principal at East Liverpool High School, which hosted the academy in 2012.
"Tony and Tom got to the Super Bowl because they were the best of the best," Kiger said. "Their sincerity is legitimate. They've been there and mean what they're saying."
There are supposed to be different NFL officials making appearances at the class.
"We're thrilled to have this academy back in the Ohio Valley," Kiger said.
The chief instructors for the class will be Brooke High graduate and current high school and college football official Jimmy Sperlazza Jr.. He recently got hired for work in the newly formed Mountain East Conference.
"You'll never watch sports the same way once you become an official," Sperlazza said. "No one understands the work you put in other than other officials."
Sperlazza was actually afforded some opportunities to work at a few NFL games with Kiger in the instant replay booth.
Another instructor will be OVAC Football Commissioner Dave Clutter.
"Your road to the NFL begins tonight," Clutter said. "This is a journey that will be unlike any one you've taken before."
The journey continues next Tuesday at 5:30 at St. Clairsville High School.