Moses Moreno sought a way to stay involved with football and give back to a sport that gave him so much. He’s enshrined in Colorado State’s Hall-of-Fame and played quarterback with the NFL’s Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers.
Much to his surprise, the pathway he found was working as a referee. Former players often stay in the game as coaches, but officiating is another path that some take.
Moreno, who grew up in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista playing at Castle Park High, is in his fourth year working for the San Diego County Football Officials Association. He loves dressing in stripes for Friday night high school games.
The work places him back on the field surrounded by the spirit of competition, but he also has filled the void of team camaraderie. A five-man crew striving together to work a perfect game forms such a bond.
“When you leave the game, you miss playing the sport you grew up loving and you also miss the locker room camaraderie,” Moreno said. “You also enjoy being able to interact with kids.”
But there’s more, too. The giving-back dimension Moreno came to appreciate was the important role officials play “to protect” the game’s future.
“We’re there to promote safety even more so these days,” Moreno said. “With the concern over head injuries and the physicality of the sport, the emphasis throughout training and working games is player safety, player safety, player safety. For us that love the game, we can have a direct impact ensuring the kids are protected.”
The game needs that awareness to keep growing.
The SDFCOA, like associations nationwide, is mindful of helping to recruit new officials. All the officials work at the task by word of mouth or visiting schools to inform players they can stay involved in the game no matter their potential to play at the next level.
But Moreno also has name recognition that results in newspapers and websites writing stories and TV stations inviting him into the studio. His name was prominent on San Diego sports pages and airwaves for a decade.
He graduated from Castle Park High in 1992; he played at Colorado State in the same conference as San Diego State; which he tormented the Aztecs after they failed to recruit him. He played in two Holiday Bowls at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium in 1995 and as co-MVP in 1997; and his two seasons with the Chargers were highlighted by leading the team to a win over the Denver Broncos at the old Mile High Stadium in relief of Jim Harbaugh.
One of Moreno’s ref recruits was former Chargers quarterback Craig Whelihan. When they caught up with each other at a Chargers alumni golf outing, Moreno piqued Whelihan’s interest.
Whelihan has worked three seasons for the San Diego association, whose alumni include former NFL referees Mike and Don Carey. SDCFOA president Marlowe Fitzgerald works Mountain West Conference games.
Moreno, like most athletes, now has a greater appreciation for the dedication referees put into their job. The crew meets every Wednesday during the season to discuss rules and study film.
“Our association does a really good job of training new officials from scratch,” Moreno said. “We go through the mechanics and the rules. We have a solid core of former Division I college officials that are part of our association.”
Moreno also praises the NFL’s awareness. He and Whelihan have been invited to Baltimore for training sessions conducted by NFL officials. Moreno noted Sarah Thomas, the first female NFL official, also participates in the program to bring more women into refereeing.
Throughout the nation and in other sports, official organizations have become proactive to counter abuse referees face that deters potential candidates’ interest. Moreno dismisses such fan incidents as far outweighed by the benefits he gains.
Before turning to officiating to stay involved, Moreno had tried coaching. He was an assistant for former Colorado State teammate Paul Turner at San Diego High.
He enjoyed it, but at the same time he took over running a business his father started 40 years ago, Able Heating and Air Conditioning.
“I liked it right away,” Moreno said. “When I started working games, I thought, ‘This is a really good fit.’”