Walking out onto the turf in Oahu's Aloha Stadium last Thursday night, dressed in her black and white officiating outfit, Cat Conti says she felt confident.
"Walking onto the field, I felt prepared," she recalled to Noozhawk the next day from her hotel room. "I thought, 'This is not beyond my reach.'"
Conti is one of a handful of female officials working Division 1 college football games, and Thursday night's game was her first nationally televised Division 1 game.
That infusion of confidence comes from her extensive training.
The Westmont College alumna has been officiating since 2000, and three of those years have been as a full-time Division 1 official on the roster.
Conti said the energy in the stadium was high, especially when Hawaii took the lead in the first quarter for what one sportscaster called "seven and a half glorious minutes."
She graduated from Westmont in 1997 with a theater degree, but she says she has found her calling on the sidelines, though she's still in the middle of the action.
"It's a way for me to be involved in a game that I love," she said. "I've found officiating is a way to have the best seat in the house. Then to be a part of the game is even better."
Conti began working youth football games, attending off-season training camps and began to learn the rule differences between high school and college football.
She began showing up at meetings where officials meet to brush up on their skills, but also serve as a chance to demonstrate that a person is ready to move up in the officiating world.
"We study the rules all year long, so those kinds of meetings will demonstrate to supervisors that you are interested and are prepared if they should decide to select you for a community college game, for example," she said.
Conti worked her way up from high school ball to community college ball, bowl games and eventually NCAA Division 1 football.
"It's like you're taking these baby steps and if you do well on this rung on the ladder, then you move up." she said.
Conti walked Noozhawk through what a day in the life of an official looks like, come game day.
Whenever Conti has a game, she'll arrive a day or two before, and whoever is on that "crew," or group of officials, will meet and have dinner.
A college football game has seven officials, the same number as the NFL. Many times, conferences will put seven officials in a crew who will stay together an entire season, Conti said.
The crew she worked with on the USC game had been together for five years, and Conti was a stand-in official.
There's a weekly test they have to take to brush up on their skills, and just like the players, they watch video of the plays and calls of game — most likely the one the crew worked before. After the game, they'll go over their video as well.
The day of the game "we'll have breakfast together, and at some point, we'll get together again and actually discuss the mechanics that we're going to use during the game," she said.
Who will cover what is talked about, as well as specific scenarios that might come up. For example, late in the game Conti was officiating, Hawaii decided not to kick a PAT (point after touchdown) after a touchdown and instead run the ball.
"We have to be mentally ready to react to that situation," she said.
Game refs usually get there about three hours before a game, and even get their own locker room, where they can change, stretch and mentally prepare — just like the players do.
"That's when they put in their headphones," Conti said.
They'll also walk around the field to check out the conditions, finally taking the field about 50 minutes before kickoff.
At this level, most officials have found their niche, and each position requires different demands and skill sets.
"Once the play starts and the ball is snapped, everybody has a different assignment," she said.
The official who wears the one white hat is called the referee, or "crew chief," and he or she will be a more veteran official, Conti said.
"He has to be the leader," she said. "He's the one who communicates with coaches when they're upset. He's our politician."
Conti worked as a line judge at the game last week, a position that had her watching for line of scrimmage fouls and offside calls.
Football fans can catch a glimpse of Conti working her next game in Tulsa on Saturday, when the University of Tulsa plays Colorado State University. She also has a Facebook fan page titled "Cat Conti: The Lady Ref."
She describes officiating a "part-time avocation, even though we give it full-time attention."
That means officials need to find a job that allows for their schedules. For Conti, that means working as a personal trainer in Thousand Oaks, where she lives.
She said she feels lucky to have officiated "every rung" on the ladder, and that experience prepared her for last week's game.
This is now Conti's third year, and she says the next rung on the ladder would be an opportunity to go to a Big 12 game. Officiating for the NFL is her ultimate goal, she said.
"It's by far the most challenging thing I've ever attempted," she said, adding that the job requires officials to composed and professional even when everyone around them is overcome with emotion. "To have an opportunity to do something you love at the highest level is an honor."