A few weeks ago, Gary Patterson was headed to the Grand Strand on an off weekend from his usual pastime, referring Atlantic Coast Conference football games.

The cell rang. Something had come up. In this the year of COVID-19, things come up a lot. Sun fun had to wait. By weekday a Lugoff insurance man, Patterson is by weekend an official so valued that he was part of the crew for the FBS national championship game in 2009.

Once upon a time, Patterson played quarterback at Wofford College. Nowadays, he says, “Nobody pays their money to come see me.”

The best official is often the one no one notices. A certain visibility is unavoidable for the referee, who has to turn on his little switch and tell the whole audience, stadium and radio/TV alike, something along the lines of, “Holding, offense, number 73, 10 yards, repeat second down.”

Patterson spent seven years as a back judge. He also started out in high schools, then moving up through the SAC-8, the SoCon and, since 2002, the ACC.

He came through with a quality relief performance at the Laurens County Touchdown Club on Friday. Presbyterian College’s Harold Nichols, who was on the sideline more than once when Patterson was officiating, called him when the present PC head coach, Tommy Spangler, had to quarantine out on his scheduled appearance. Five Blue Hose have tested positive. The coronavirus affects life every day.

Patterson’s discussion of the changes in his avocation was timely in both the micro and the macro.

Officials usually get in their reps – like the players do – during spring practice and scrimmages before the season. This year, Patterson said, has been one Zoom meeting after another.

He earns his money late.

“Anybody can call the 28 minutes of both halves,” he says. “The final two minutes are what counts. In college (football), it’s that way.”

Usually ACC officials work in standard crews, but the scrambles of the novel coronavirus have caused a certain mix ’n’ match this year. At the beginning of the season, the referee was supposed to wear a mask at all times and use an electronic whistle. It didn’t work. Now he pulls his mask down “when play is imminent.”

When referees speak to the Touchdown Club, questions are always common. Patterson took questions about how replay examinations work, when officials make calls from outside their sections of the field (“we don’t do that unless we happen to have a clear view of something that the other official didn’t”) and the specifics of when a player is merely disqualified from the rest of a game and when he is thrown out of it. (If disqualified, he can remain on the sideline, but if he’s ejected, he’s got to leave.)

This year everything is different at places where everything is usually the same. In Charlottesville (Va.), 1,000 fans, mostly family members, are allowed. In Miami, the limit is 6,000. He’s been both places recently. Some have more. Some have less. Some have none.

The two most recent county Players of the Week – Clinton’s Hezekiah Kinard and Jykorie Gary – received their certificates from TD Club president Buddy Bridges.

Each school brought along players who have performed well of late. Assistant coach Brian Kneece of Laurens Academy, subbing for head coach Todd Kirk, brought Reles Littleton, Caio Rita, Cal Robertson, Thomas Lowry and Clarence Bertoli. Joining Clinton’s Corey Fountain were Kinard, Gary, Marcus Chalmers and Bryson James. Jayden McGowen, T.J. Garlington, Gemire Darden and Scoon Mosely accompanied LDHS’s Daryl Smith.

Laurens native, PC graduate, multiple-state-championship coach and former executive director of the S.C. Athletic Coaches Association Shell Dula addresses the Touchdown Club at the next meeting on Oct. 22.