TOPEKA (KSNT) – Teven Jenkins and Corey Ballentine are just two NFL players who have ties to Topeka, but one of the officials every weekend is also from Topeka.
Like a lot of people, David Oliver’s athletic career ended in high school, but his love for football never went away.
“Both of my brothers played major college football,” Oliver said. “Then, after high school, we played on a softball team and some of the guys that I played with were high school coaches. We were just talking football and I was always interested in football, so I thought, ‘What the heck? I’ll start officiating football.”
So, Oliver joined the Topeka Officials Association.
“At TOA, I met a lot of great officials,” he said. “Tim Murray, Brad and Kevin, we were on a crew together.”
Murray and Oliver still keep in touch.
“We’d give each other a bad time when we were learning the rules and studying,” Murray said. “On the way to games, after the games, stuff like that, but during the game we were pretty serious.”
Oliver didn’t imagine his career going beyond the Friday night lights.
“Those guys were working college football, so they tried to talk me into doing college football for several years,” Oliver said. “I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want to give up my weekends.”
Then, his aspirations grew and he finally decided to join the Kansas Collegiate Officials Association.
“I was pretty much in awe sitting in there and listening to those guys talk, and listening to Phil Laurie and John Laurie,” Oliver said. “It’s really where I started developing a passion for officiating football.”
Phil Laurie and Oliver went on to officiate college football together, including the 2004 Rose Bowl.
“We had 30-40 guys every Wednesday night wanting to get into college officiating,” Phil Laurie said. “They started coming to my basement wanting to get interested in college officiating. Boy, it just went off from there. I knew from the first day I met [Oliver] that he had the ability to go to higher places.”
After 15 years in the Big 12 and three in the SEC, Oliver was scouted to officiate the NFL.
“I always figured he would and I thought he would’ve sooner,” Murray said. “We worked a bowl game one year, and I thought that was his last college game and he was going to be in the NFL. It was great. We really were happy for him.”
After six seasons in the NFL, Oliver can’t point out a favorite moment.
“Really, all the games are so important to the coaches, players, fans, the organizations,” he said. “Every game is important and fun to work, and it’s a new experience.”
He’s getting ready to start his 7th season as an NFL down judge.
“As officials, we have weekly calls,” Oliver said. “Every day we’re doing something with football. So, it’s not just taking a break from officiating football. We’re still getting into the rulebook. We’re still looking at film, still trying to make ourselves better than we were the previous year.”
Whether his career took him to New Year’s Six bowls or Super Bowls, Oliver knows it all starts in Topeka.
“A number of great officials here in Topeka that were willing to help young officials like me when I first started,” he said. “That really helped build my foundation as a football official and understanding how to officiate a game. What a foul is, what a foul’s not. How to put yourself in position to get the right angle to see the play and make a ruling.”