Growing up in Lenexa, Devin Blazek loved playing soccer. Trouble was, he wasn’t very good at it.
“I quit after eighth grade,” Blazek said. “I was always the kid who tried really hard, but I just didn’t have the God-given talent. I just really wasn’t any good.”
So, 10 years ago, Blazek, 22, did the next best thing. He got certified as a soccer official — and started raking in pretty good money for a kid who wouldn’t be able to drive for three more years.
“You can go out to your local youth league and work six or seven games,” Blazek said. “I might walk out of there with a $200 or $250 paycheck. When you’re 14 or 15 years old, you don’t know how to spend that money.”
It didn’t take long, however, before the money became secondary for Blazek, who is the only official from metropolitan Kansas City to be selected to officiate matches at the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships Series, which continues through Sunday at the Overland Park Soccer Complex.
“The money was great, but more and more it grew on me,” Blazek said. “Talking to some of the older referees, they suggested other leagues I could talk to and everything took off from there.”
Before long, Blazek was officiating at the Kansas state youth soccer championships and eventually broke into the NAIA ranks.
“Now, I just do this because I love it,” Blazek said.
Even after giving up his playing career, Blazek’s love for the game never waned.
“I don’t think I missed a single St. Thomas Aquinas home game my junior or senior year in high school and I know I didn’t miss a single Benedictine home game all four years I was up there,” said Blazek, who graduated from the Atchison-based college with a physical education degree last year.
While being a fan has been great, it isn’t enough for Blazek, who also works as a freelance personal trainer.
“It’s my way of staying involved in the game I have a passion for,” Blazek said. “There was a point where I was out of the country studying overseas (in Italy) for a few months and I didn’t referee at all, but it was eating me up. I was constantly up on my computer watching whatever soccer games I could find and trying to stay sharp, studying the game.”
Blazek works a lot of NAIA games and recently took the NCAA test, “so hopefully I’ll start getting some NCAA games as well,” he said.
Blazek also officiates games in the Professional Development League, which includes the Kansas City Brass, and on the academy circuit, which includes Sporting Kansas City’s junior squads. He hopes to break into the high school ranks soon.
Looking back, it’s not the life Blazek charted for himself.
With officiating opportunities increasing throughout the country after U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer established the Professional Referee Organization in March 2012, it’s a life Blazek has embraced.
“If we had this conversation even three years ago and you would have said I’d be standing out here holding a whistle at the national championships, I would have probably laughed at you,” Blazek said. “I would have never thought I’d get this far, so I feel like the sky’s the limit right now and I’m taking it step by step. I’d love to progress up to MLS.”