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NEWS & MEDIA

TILLMAN TUESDAY: How the ‘Fail Mary’ Inspired Tillman Scholar Jed Hefner to Make a Difference

Pat Tillman Foundation Communications   |   By Jill Walsh, Communications Manager   |   July 11, 2017

Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, over 500 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, science, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support. This week we have the honor learning more about Tillman Scholar Jed Hefner who was selected in the inaugural class of scholars in 2009. Jed earned his MBA from the University of Arkansas in 2011 and hopes to someday be a referee in the National Football League.

TILLMAN TUESDAY TIDBITS:

  • Enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of seventeen, serving for eight years
  • Attended the University of Arkansas in 2006 while leaving active reserve in 2007 and graduating in 2008.
  • Jed has been employed with Accenture Federal Services since 2010
  • Earned his MBA from the University of Arkansas in 2011
  • The ‘Fail Mary’ in 2012 inspired Jed to pursue football officiating
  • Jed and his wife are expecting their third child in November

HOW DID YOU REACH THE DECISION TO JOIN THE MARINE CORPS?

“I struggled with high school and wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. Having taken ROTC for two years where the instructor was a Marine Sergeant Major, he was instrumental in encouraging me to join the Marines. With all of that being said, it was the year 2000 and the world was in a different place. I had the option to either be part of the Information Technology team or Infantry and naturally at the age of 17 I wanted to go Infantry with the expectation there would be an opportunity to deploy. Shortly before boot camp I received a scholarship for undergrad through an after-school program I had been involved in. At the last minute, literally at MEPS on my ship date, I changed my contract from active duty infantry to the reserves.”

HOW LONG DID YOU SERVE AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN THROUGHOUT YOUR TIME?

“I spent eight years in the reserves, mobilizing on two separate occasions but even as an Infantryman I still never deployed overseas. Having been out of the military for nearly ten years now, the thing I struggle with is the fact I spent all of that time training and I never left the U.S. All of the things that you think about as an Infantryman (combat, opportunity to deployment) never materialized. In retrospect, I’ve come to terms with that by accepting the fact there are things I can’t control.

Having enlisted at the age of 17 I enjoyed not knowing what the real world was like at that young age and then going into a very harsh infantry training and learning things about what is required to have this thing we call Freedom – there’s something that needs to be paid and it can’t be done so with a checkbook. There are so many things that are impossible before you experience it, then once you’re doing it, you realize what you can endure. As a result, you gain the perspective that there most things in life aren’t easy but you realize you could do anything for an hour or for a day.”

IN MAY OF 2010, YOU ACCEPTED A JOB OFFER WITH ACCENTURE FEDERAL SERVICES AND CURRENTLY RESIDE IN SAN ANTONIO TEXAS. WHAT IS IT THAT YOU’RE DOING IN YOUR ROLE THERE?

“I’m assisting with building a delivery center and facility where we have the staff and expertise for a particular technology and we can leverage that team across multiple clients.  From this one location, we support several client accounts across DoD and a broad range of civilian agencies across the Federal government.  All of our staff in the San Antonio area are directly focused on delivering High Performance to the federal government.  I see my work as an opportunity to continue to serve the taxpayer and the warfighter beyond my military service.  I love the opportunity to be able to bring my passion, skillset, education and background along with the best practices of the industry to dramatically improve efficiency within the federal government.

The work that I’m doing is helping supply a warfighter down range. While my role has changed over the last few years I still feel a connection when I meet those guys who are executing the mission and I can identify with them because of the time I spent training to close with and destroy the enemy. Understanding our client’s mission and objectives has really helped me in being able to contribute to the public good while in a corporate setting.”

WHERE DO YOU GET THE ASPIRATION TO BECOME AN NFL OFFICIAL AND WHERE ARE YOU AT WITH THE PROCESS?

“As a lifelong Packers fan, when the ‘Fail Mary’ occurred on Sept. 24, 2012, I was wrecked by how such an obvious call could get missed.  There were replacement referees officiating the Packers vs. Seahawks game and they were the easy target for the righteous indignation of my fandom.  I hate fair-weather fans but I also can’t be the guy who sees a problem and ignores it or just complains about it – I have to get involved and do something about it. The Fail Mary started sparking my interest in becoming an official because I figured “how hard can it be?”

In the spring of 2013 I got involved in a local officiating chapter and this fall will be my fifth season of being on the field. I recognize the reality of actually being an NFL official similar odds to how a player might make it to the NFL.  One percent at the high school level get to be officials at the college level. There are very few people who get to work the NFL with 17 crews and seven per crew.  But still, a guy can dream, right?

Once I got on the field and began officiating I fell in love.  There is no better seat in the house, and it has been a great way for me to stay connected to the game I love.  I love the challenge of knowing the complexities of the rules and applying them in split second situations.  Every game is different, and every game is a chance to get better.  Of course, every call you make will make one side happy and one side not so much.  That friction comes with the territory.  In the military you get yelled at because the stakes are high, often life and death.  So it helps to put the game into perspective.  It doesn’t faze me if a coach gets a little hot under the collar when we disagree about a play.  The skills I gained in the military align closely with being an official: making quick decisions, being decisive, confidence in my decision all allow me to sell the call.

Much like life everyone sees each play through their own set of lenses, and once you realize that, it makes it easier to empathize with both sides and become a fair arbiter of the game.

My next step is to work hard every chance I get to step out on the field, treat every game like it is the biggest game (because for the players and coaches, it is), and be ready when the opportunity comes to work the college game.  From there, who knows?  That’s why we dream!”

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ISSUES YOU FEEL EXIST WITH OFFICIATING?

“There is a real threat to the future of football.  The media tells you a lot about concussions and how at every level everyone is making changes as to how to handle concussions. At every level people are aware of concussions but what they’re not aware of is the shortage of officials. The average age of a high school football official in the country is 57 ½ so in the next seven to eight years the most experienced half of all officials are going to be retirement age. When that happens there will be a huge drop in the number of experienced and qualified officials that are going to be able to work the games.  When we reach that cliff, much like when the replacement referees worked in the NFL, the average fan will see a noticeable decline in the product on the field.  There are already cases reported across the country where games are being canceled due to not having enough officials.  But the shortage of officials is just the symptom.  There are many within the industry that are researching the root cause, but often the same common issues keep popping up: 1) abuse from coaches, players, parents, and fans.  2) low pay (most NFL officials have a day job), and 3) increasing demands on the time of those historically drawn to officiating.

Coaches, parents and fans at every level of the game have shifted their focus from what the player isn’t doing right, to what the official isn’t doing right. Replay lets us slow things down and it becomes easy to forget that the official watching that play got to see it once at full speed and had to make the call.  One thing will never change:  Every time you’re in a competitive contest, you’re going to have people who disagree with the call.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU TO BE PART OF THE TILLMAN SCHOLAR COMMUNITY?

“The things that I have seen happen with the Pat Tillman Foundation are fantastic! I love that we’ve grown so much since I became a scholar in 2009.  It’s inspiring to see the stories of other veterans and spouses who are being helped in their educational dreams by becoming part of the Pat Tillman Foundation and carry on Pat’s legacy of service.  It’s such a great community full of individuals willing to give of themselves to better somebody else. The variety of backgrounds are so inspiring.

Personally, it’s a difficult struggle for me to see these fantastic stories of service and other guys in combat and the countless selfless acts they’ve performed.  But at the same time I feel like being able to honor and celebrate others is a thing our country forgets too often. Being able to bring that into focus has really been an encouragement to me. It has helped me personally to work through the difficulties and reality of what my service was in the military.

The Pat Tillman Foundation community is an ever-ready and ever-present body of people who are committed to giving back to something bigger than themselves in whatever field that may be in. That’s something that’s a rarity in our society and it’s encouraging for me to be part of this community.”

WHAT DID YOU LEARN AT YOUR CLINIC YOU ATTENDED AT THE END OF MAY?

“Over the course of two days, I had the opportunity to work on the field in scrimmages and drills, as well as putting in work in the classroom through review of game film, instant reply, and instruction on proper officiating mechanics.  This is all done on a foundation of rules knowledge gained through study of the rulebook which each official is expected to know thoroughly prior to arriving at the camp.

During my on-field scrimmage work, I received direct feedback from some of the best clinicians across all levels of the sport, including: 3-time Super Bowl Referee Gerald Austin, NFL Head Linesman Patrick Turner, Conference USA Supervisor Dan Blum, and Lone Star Conference Supervisor, Tim Crowley.

Some feedback was little things like which hand or foot to use when signaling at the end of a play (the downfield hand/foot), or whether to close in on the field to the top or bottom of the numbers depending on where the play ended.  Other feedback was more significant:  For example, when you and your partner have different calls, and you have information vital to prevent your partner from making the wrong call – How do you take your partner off of their call?  In my case, Patrick wanted me to work on being more authoritative in making my call.  In many cases it simply comes down to the trust built with your crewmates during the many hours spent off the field learning, studying, and building rapport as the third team on the field.

I am sure everyone has heard it said, ‘you could call holding on every play.’  We laugh about this as officials because that would be a pretty boring game to watch.  During some of the classroom work, I learned a ton about when/how/why to call holding, and probably more importantly when not to call holding, and to top it off, I got to learn from two of the best in the game:  Super Bowl XLI Referee Tony Corrente and Super Bowl 51 Referee, Carl Cheffers.

The opportunity to learn from these giants of our invisible profession has been an invaluable experience in stepping up my game as I work toward being ready for the next level.  Thank you to the Tillman Foundation for supporting me in this endeavor.”