OPELIKA, Ala. (WSFA) - Opelika’s Jeff Hilyer is a very well-known referee across the state of Alabama, creating a career that’s lasted 40 years.
“Well I got started when I was about 21, and just had an interest in it for my whole life, and never thought about quitting," Hilyer said. "I just had fun from day one and still have fun today. Football was my main sport, but I did adult slow-pitch softball as well. I did six national softball tournaments.”
According to the Alabama High School Athletic Association, Hilyer has climbed through the ranks to officiate at the NCAA and professional football level. He was a founding member of the Big East Football Officials Association in Phenix City.
Being a referee also has allowed Hilyer to travel the country, but he says his favorite moment was reffing a game at the U.S Naval Academy in Maryland.
“That was probably the most memorable game I had," he said. "Going up there and seeing the pageantry of the cadets, touring the academy, just being in that atmosphere. I got to meet the Secretary of the Navy, and that was really special. I’ll never forget that.”
Although he is now being recognized for his accomplishments in the field, Hilyer says it’s an honor, but it’s not about him.
“I try to give back and help the younger people move along and learn, and that’s always been my focus," he said. "The more you put into something, the more you get out of it, so I always try to put in as much as I can.”
And if there's one thing he's learned from his time wearing the black and white, its this:
“I don’t view them yelling at me - they’re yelling at the uniform, so I don’t take it personally.” he said. “I could be out there calling a game, and they could be yelling at me, and you could come out there and take my uniform off and put it on. They’d quit yelling at me and start yelling at you - they’re just yelling at the uniform.”
Hilyer was named the AHSAA District and State Football Official of the Year in 2002. He was also chosen as the Sun Belt Conference Official of the Year in 2012 and received the AHSAA Distinguished Service Award in 2012.
AHSAA said Hilyer has represented Alabama by serving on the Board of Directors of the NFHS Officials Association. He served as board president in 2000-2001. He also served a four-year term on the NFHS Football Rules Editorial Committee and is currently the AHSAA State Rules Interpreter for football. In 2014, he received the NFHS Officials Citation Award as National High School Official of the Year.
When Hilyer stepped away from college officiating, he became the replay official for the Sun Belt. He is also the AHSAA consultant on its Instant Replay program and is the AHSAA’s replay official at the Super 7 Football Championships.