Former NFL player joins Mason’s campus security team

Anna Kinasewitz | Staff Writer

Terry Killens (left) walks with senior Jamaal Kelly through the hallways of MHS. Killens works with students at Mason as both a campus safety official and as a mentor.

If you happen to run into Terry Killens in the hallways at Mason High School, don’t be surprised if he throws a flag on you. 

The former professional football player, now National Football League official is a part of the campus security team at MHS. While Killens’ job at the school is to help keep students safe, he also mentors and builds relationships with young students to help them avoid some of the pitfalls that come with adolescence. 

Killens isn’t a sworn officer but works with the Mason Police Department in the division of campus safety. During the week he’s patrolling the hallways of MHS, and on the weekends you’ll find Killens patrolling the sidelines of NFL stadiums making sure players follow the rules of the game. 

Working his way up from pee-wee, to college, to now reffing in the NFL has been a long time coming for Killens. When opportunity struck, Killens said he took his chance to get back to the same fields where he spent a seven-year career as a Linebacker.

“It’s my first year reffing in the NFL,” Killens said. “While I was working in division one, I was noticed by an NFL scout and he came up to me and we talked a little and the next thing I knew I was being interviewed.”

Killens believes the pressure he experiences in the NFL correlates directly to the experiences he has from influencing student’s lives. Killens said he transitions between the two by finding the common ground between them.

“The thing about being an Athletic Official is the stress of dealing with a lot of personalities,” Killens said. “It’s similar when I come into the high school. I don’t know what’s going on at home or how your day has been. When somebody comes, it doesn’t mean you’re having a bad day, you might just need somebody to talk to. And that’s what I’m doing here, I’m that ear. A lot of times I might not even say anything to the students regarding rules or laws, I’ll just be a platform for somebody to get some stuff off of their chest if need be, or tell a joke or two, make somebody laugh.”

The former NFL linebacker knows a thing or two about succeeding, considering he got the chance to play in Super Bowl XXXIV. Killens said being a former player and working his career in Mason helps him when he’s on the field as a ref. 

“I understand the mindset better when working as an official,” Killens said. “If a player fouls and I throw a penalty on them, I know they’re not doing it on purpose. They’ve made a mistake, but there are consequences that come with that mistake. I think about it the same way, here, inside the school. I think, ‘I know you did something wrong, and I want you to understand that you did something wrong, but you have to be penalized for it.’”

In turn, Killens believes his football background and officiating jobs have taught him lessons that he can now pass on to students and apply in his mentoring role every day. Killens said he encourages the students that he meets with to not act out, but instead focus their efforts on positive habits. 

“I try to instill that sometimes, you won’t have a good day,” Killens said. “It’s the glass half full. Let’s find something in that day to make it better. I find a lot of times that small things are what will brighten someone’s day because you don’t know what they’re going through. If I’m aware of the particular situation of a student, I try to be empathetic, walk that mile in their shoes. I always feel like being kind, being courteous, and being understanding has gotten me the furthest in both jobs and is something I bring to the table at work each day.”

It’s easy to wonder why Killens continues to dedicate himself to his work at the high school when he is beyond busy on the weekends. Killens knows that he works a hectic schedule, but he is doing what he does because he loves it. 

Killens said that after working Tuesday through Friday in the building, he heads out Saturday mornings to his assigned NFL city to handle numerous responsibilities before Sunday’s kickoff that many people don’t know about.

“Normally I travel back after the game, so I’ll be on a night flight home to Cincinnati,” Killens said. “By then, I’m exhausted, but I’ll have reports I have to finish if I didn’t get them done on the plane, which I usually don’t because I tend to fall asleep. The department is great letting me have those Mondays off because if I come in and I’m tired, I can’t do much for people if I’m exhausted.”

Oftentimes in NFL games, Killens finds that both teams can never be pleased, someone is always mad, and people will always try to place blame. Killens said his unique situation as a former professional athlete- turned referee, allows him to utilize his experiences to improve his impact on the lives of the students he interacts with. 

“I try not to listen, I call that ‘white noise’ like the noise on the radio,” Killens said. You hear it, it gets on your nerves, but you don’t let it affect you. I try to block all of that out. I tell the kids this because it applies to their lives: all you can worry about is what’s in between the white lines. Anything outside of the lines you don’t want to worry about or get distracted by, because then you can’t do your job on the field, or in life.”

Photo by Chronicle Staff.