On Jan. 9, 2017, a star was born, in the form of a jacked referee officiating the national championship between Clemson and Alabama. His name is Mike Defee, a Big 12 referee since 2006 and a college football ref since 2001.
Twitter was abuzz about his arms that Monday night, and rightfully so.
Instead of the Pro Bowl, let's just have a boxing match between Ed Hochuli and this swoll ref.— Robert Mays (@robertmays) January 10, 2017
BEEF REF setting the tone for protecting the quarterbacks tonight and also letting you know the Westside Method really works— HAPPY MOO YEAR (@edsbs) January 10, 2017
All the attention caught Defee off-guard, especially given this wasn’t his first high-profile game.
“I was completely taken aback,” Defee told SB Nation via phone interview. “The very nature of what we do is, we’re just trying to be invisible, so that no one knows you’re really there. And to have had that happen, I was just blown away.
“My appearance, the way I dress, has been consistent for a number of years. And I’ve worked a lot of big games. I worked the Rose Bowl prior to the national championship, I worked the semifinal of the Cotton Bowl: Alabama and Michigan State. It’s just funny in today’s society, all it takes is one person with Twitter, or whatever, and all of the sudden, it gets out there.”
So, how does he stay so fit?
Defee lifts every week, and he mixes in cardio three times a week, varying between running, going on a StairMaster, or spinning.
“I mix things up,” Defee said. “As you get older, you can’t sustain the kind of intense workout load that you can when you’re younger. So I’ve learned to manage that as I’ve gotten older. I’m 56 and so on average, I try to be in the gym about four days a week. From a lifting perspective, I kind of rotate body parts.”
- 135 pounds X 20 reps
- 185 X 12
- 225 X 8-10
- 250 X 6-8
- 275 X 4-6
- 225 X 8-10
- 205 X 10
- If barbell, 3-4 sets X 8-10 reps, 205 pounds
- If Smith machine, 3-4 sets X 10 reps, 225 pounds
- If dumbbells: 3-4 sets X 10 reps, 80-100 pounds
Pec Deck or fly machine: 4 sets X 10 reps, 190 pounds
Military press: 4 sets X 10 reps, 135 pounds
Dumbbell lateral shoulder flies: 3 sets X 10 reps, 30-35 pounds
Dumbbell horizontal shoulder flies: 3 sets X 10 reps, 25 pounds
Smith machine squats: 4 sets X 10-15 reps, up to 225 pounds (Defee’s lower back injury keeps him light here)
Incline leg press: 6 sets X 8-10 reps, up to 720 pounds
Leg extensions: 3 sets X 10 reps, 150 pounds
Leg curls: 3 sets X 10 reps, 110 pounds
Calf raises: 4 sets X 15 reps, 210 pounds
Standing bar curls: 3 sets X 10 reps, up to 135 pounds
Single arm dumbbell curls: 3 sets X 10 reps, 45 pounds
Preacher curls: 3 sets X 10 reps, 80-90 pounds
Brain crushers: 3 sets X 10 reps, 125 pounds, and 10 close-grip press reps immediately following
Tricep extensions: 3 sets X 10 reps, 60 pounds
Overhead rope: 3 sets X 10 reps, 80 pounds
Tricep dips: 3 sets X 10 reps
Behind-the-neck lateral pull downs: 3 sets X 10 reps, increasing from 140 to 160 pounds
Front lateral pull downs: 3 sets X 10 reps, increasing from 150 to 170 pounds
Narrow grip seated cable rows: 3 sets X 10 reps, increasing from 130 to 150 pounds
Barbell shrugs: 3 sets X 10 reps, 225 pounds
Friday and weekends
“Rest periods for me, relative to workouts,” he said. “In the offseason, I’m usually working at home or on my ranch.”
How about all that time on Saturdays spent chasing football players around? How many steps does that take?
“In a given game, 7,000 to 8,000 on average. Other positions usually do more!”
But we didn’t just talk about gainz!
Defee gave me a glimpse of what it’s really like to be a referee. He refs part-time, working as the manager for an electrical construction and maintenance company in Southeast Texas.
How did your referee career start?
“I actually got into officiating football relatively late age,” Defee said. “I was about 33, 34 years old, something like that, and my son had moved into playing for the [high] school. And I actually used to play a lot of golf, and one of the guys I played with was a high school referee and he’d been after me. He thought I’d as much as I enjoyed football, I’d like that.
“So I came into it, and really, really enjoyed it, and found out that I didn’t know near what I thought I knew as a fan. My knowledge was a conglomerate of Friday night, college, and NFL football, and what I really thought I knew was dramatically different. So I started going to clinics to try and get better because I didn’t even want to cost anyone the game because of my incompetence. And through that pursuit, I ended up meeting a number of people that liked the way I worked and my approach to football, and helped me get into small college football in 2001, in the Southland Conference.”
How big of a jump was high school reffereeing to college?
“The one thing I think most officials coming out of Texas have an advantage, is that Texas high school football is played under NCAA rules, one of the few states — there was always one other state I can remember, they were NCAA rules. From that perspective, it was pretty straightforward. But the dramatic difference was size and speed of the game, they’re dramatically different. And it was equally as big moving from the Southland Conference up to the Big 12.”
Is crowd noise ever a factor for you or your crew?
“The truth is, you’re aware that there’s noise, there’s emotion. But if you’re going to work at an elite level on a consistently high basis, high-level of performance, you have got to learn how to focus and concentrate.
“Every down, every [official on the field] has a different pre-snap routine. So when a play’s over with, there’s a sequence of events that takes place, taking you to the next snap. You work the play, you do your tees, you get to the dead ball, and you work your pre-snap routine, and it’s just one play at a time.”
The score isn’t much of a factor in refereeing, either?
“There’s many, many times I walk off the field and couldn’t begin to tell you what the score was. I’ll have to ask guys ‘hey what was the final?’ I may be generally aware if the score’s close, potential for overtime, something like that. But other than that, the score is just irrelevant to me.
“One of the common comments I get from people that see me work games is, ‘Oh man, you have the greatest seat in the world in the game.’ They don’t really understand that you don’t watch the game, we watch each position. We work elements of a play, or aspects of that given play. So you don’t really, it’s not like you’re watching the game as a fan, you’re just working.”
Defee is lighthearted about how quickly his guns went viral.
“The thing for me was, and I talked to a lot of officials, I did not want that to overshadow the work of the crew in that game,” Defee said. “Because I thought the crew in that game did a really, really nice job.
“The other thing is, it brings positive attention to officiating, and it’s great, because it’s really rare that we get a whole lot of positive feedback.”