Craig Harris/Macon County Times Red Boiling Springs resident David Porter is in his 19th year as a Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) high-school football official.

Craig Harris/Macon County Times

Red Boiling Springs resident David Porter is in his 19th year as a Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) high-school football official.

Though high-school football has concluded for the two county schools, there's still been some area individuals suiting up and stepping on to the field.

Bobby Etheridge and David Porter are among those.

That 59-year-old duo played high-school football together.

More than 40 years later, they're still on the field on Friday nights.

"I played at Red Boiling (Springs) when they first started football at Red Boiling," Etheridge -- one of four Macon County men who officiate high-school football games -said. "I got out and had kids, and I had a son who played football.

"In 2000, my brother, Jeff Gentry, did one or two years (of officiating). He talked me into it."

Porter -- a Red Boiling Springs resident -- followed suit shortly thereafter.

"When I graduated, I loved football so much," Porter said. "I didn't even go back. It just seemed like it wasn't right being out there. It kind of hurt not being out there. It just didn't seem right.

"Bobby started (officiating) a year before I did. Talking to him got me started."

Another Red Boiling Springs resident, Mearl White, doesn't have that lengthy of a tenure but is in his sixth season of officiating.

"I've always loved football," the 34-year-old Trousdale County High graduate said. "I would go and watch friends play. I was lazy and out of shape. After high school, I got in shape. I wish I could go back and play from pee wee up through.

"After I got out of college, I realized that's why I got involved. I'm not a coach or a teacher. I can go to a game every Friday night and still be involved with it."

Lafayette resident Juan Clariday has seen football -- and sports in general -- from a variety of perspectives.

"I've been a basketball official the last 15 years," Clariday said. "I helped Nathan (Wilson, the former Macon County High football coach) for a couple of years. I was an assistant (football coach) at Grundy County.

"It keeps me in the game. I love it."

Clariday is in his second season of officiating football.

"Being a coach in another sport helps me talk to another coach," Clariday said. "I know what they're going through. I know where they're coming from. It's helped me in coaching too being an official.

"I've enjoyed it more than I thought I would."

Unlike Etheridge and Porter, neither Clariday nor White played high-school football, though both were closely-affiliated with various sports.

"I've always been a sports nut," Clariday said. "I just love being around those guys (on the football field). I knew all along I was going to be involved in sports. I was never a great athlete. I couldn't hit a curveball. In football, I was just a step slow, plus I'm hearing impaired. In basketball, I was small. I did the next best thing. I was a manager and learned the game. I was the student manager in baseball and kept stats (in high school). I kept stats in basketball as work study (in college). I've always been around ball.

"I'm finally on the field in football. I love it. I never thought I'd like it like I do."

Porter remembers his playing days.

"Bobby was a year older than me," Porter said. "He was a running back when we played. We were always good friends. He started it, and I got started after him."

Porter is a referee, which is the crew chief.

"Referees are relied on heavily for the rule knowledge," Porter said. "I used to read (the rule book) faithfully. It takes the whole crew though. The referee doesn't have to work as hard as the rest of them. Maybe that's good ... but everybody is a workhorse."

He has seen the game from a variety of angles. In his first year of officiating, Porter kept the clock and then served as a line judge for three years, followed by five years as the back judge. That's when he became a referee.

"I've seen a lot of coaches for all these years," Porter said. "For the most part, the coaches respect us as much as we respect them. Each one of us knows we've love football. It's kind of a brotherhood there too ... but we get them aggravated sometimes."

Porter and Clariday have both seen it from the coach's point of view. Porter was the Red Boiling Springs High softball coach for 17 years.

Clariday is currently the head baseball coach at Jackson County High, after serving as the head coach at Macon County for three seasons in addition to three seasons as an assistant football coach for Macon County Junior High.

Clariday has attempted to learn from the area's veteran officials.

"The officials, we have to have each other's backs, especially in this day and time," Clariday said. "I'm 53 years old. I graduated high school in 1985. We have to have each other's back.

"I've learned so much from David. Bobby Etheridge is practically my neighbor. I try to learn from them. Bobby went to the state (championship game) last year. Who knows ... in 10 years, I'd like to be there."

Porter added, "Working with the young guys, I pride myself with Bobby on this ... Bobby and I have a name in our association of young guys want to work with us. We try to put them at ease. They do a better job when they get loosened up."

The perk is the pay, though it's not the motivation.

"Watching the kids go out there and putting it all on the line ... they are giving everything to win," White said. "Some people may think we go out and just draw a paycheck. Our supervisor stresses to give it 110 percent.

"One bad call can cost a coach his job. This for me is a side job, but one bad call could cost a coach his job. We're human, but 110 percent is always best. I'm always willing to learn from our white hats (referees) and veteran officials."

Etheridge and Porter have witnessed the evolution of the game over their tenure as officials.

"It's the speed of the game more than anything," Etheridge said. "The kids are bigger than when I first started. The speed of it and the coaching of it is more like college.

"Back when I first started, you didn't throw that much. They would just line up and run the ball."

Porter added, "I would say the speed. Back when I played, the strength came from working on the farm. Now, it's in the gym. The speed, it's a little faster where we have all this new technology, but I really can't say it's changed a whole lot. Maybe now, it's demanding more out of an athlete. It seems like any sport now is year-round."

What has kept Porter and Etheridge on the field?

"I love being out with the kids on the field on Friday night, but over the years, you work with a lot of the same officials," Etheridge said. "It becomes like a brotherhood. Every Friday night, everybody is calling everybody ... 'How'd your game go?' It's a brotherhood type of environment. I still love being out there on Friday night."

Clariday added, "We talk amongst each other. Some of my best friends are fellow officials. I've become good friends with a lot of them. We talk shop a lot. I've really got close to a lot of the guys."

While they call each other after the game, the calls start much earlier in the week.

"We cannot wait," White said. "Usually, we get our assignments on Monday, and we cannot wait to see who is on our crew (for that week). As soon as it comes out, we contact each other. It's a brotherhood. It's like you're 20 years old again in college."

Etheridge added, "You communicate with them. When you get your schedule on Tuesday, you're calling everybody and saying, 'Where are you going?' "

All have had memorable games.

"I've had so many good ones," Porter said. "It's hard to say. I had to do Hoover, Alabama, versus Oakland in the opening game of 2015. Oakland laid with them for the first half. That was just an atmosphere.

"I've had Gallatin and Beech at Gallatin, a 57-56 game, and there was standing-room only. It was a great experience. There have been so many."

Porter has worked five semifinal games and was the referee for the 2015 Class A state championship game between Nashville Christian and Greenback.

Etheridge was one of the officials during last year's Division II Class AAA state championship game between Brentwood Academy and Memphis University School.

Like Clariday, White is hoping to reach that level at some point. He was among the officiating crew for a Class 3A semifinal contest between Alcoa and Red Bank two seasons ago.

"I've had some great games, a few overtime games that have been great," White said. "Our association (the North Central Football Officials Association) tries to build you up. It's like fine wine ... it gets better with time.

"It doesn't matter if it's a 6A football game or a 1A game. We -- the association -- treat every game just as important as the other."

The North Central Football Officials Association has 30-plus schools that it supplies officials for, stretching as far as Jamestown, Crossville, Eagleville and Coalmont.

In addition to the high-school games, they also sometimes officiate junior-varsity games, junior-high games and youth football games on Saturdays as well.

Regardless of the level of play and the size of the schools, White attempts to treat it with a businesslike approach.

"Every call is not going to be the crowd's favorite," White said. "Our overall objective is to give the players and coaches 110 percent. We're not there for us. It's a business kind of deal.

"I enjoy it more and more as the years go on."

The others still find joy in it as well.

"One of the main reasons you stay at it is just the brotherhood," Porter said. "You're out there with them. I enjoy the heck out of it. I still enjoy it as much as I ever have.

"Getting older, I'm going to have to slow down a little bit. It's crossed my mind the last few years, but I still enjoy it. I may just cut back a few games."

Etheridge reassessed things at the conclusion of last season.

"The whole season was fun last year," Etheridge said. "We were supervised just about every game. That keeps you on your toes, but it was fun (officiating a state championship game).

"I thought about stepping down after last year. That's what everybody works for the whole time (to work a state title game), but I still love the game. Actually, I'm having a ball this year. I'm having fun on Friday nights. As long as I can still run, I'm there. I'm going to stay. I love it."

However, Etheridge admits that he'll enjoy the rest as the season comes to a close.

"You get to the end of the year, and your body is sort of tired," Etheridge said. "But when it gets to July and you start hitting those (officials) meetings and the scrimmages come around, you get fired up."