The football careers of Natrone Means and Mike Morton continue to mirror each other, even though their playing days ended years ago.
Growing up on opposite ends of Cabarrus County, Means (from Harrisburg) and Morton (Kannapolis) played against each other in high school. They were teammates at UNCChapel Hill, and both played in Super Bowls during their fairly long NFL careers.
Nine years after either suited up in the NFL, Means and Morton were in uniform on the same football field again last month. On Sept. 24, they worked East Mecklenburg's game at Independence as officials.
Morton is in his third year working as a referee; Means is in his first.
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Means was virtually a household name for Central Cabarrus in the late 1980s, racking up thousands of yards as a highly regarded running back.
Morton was a linebacker and tight end at A.L. Brown when the Wonders defeated the Vikings 24-20 in 1989, the only time the two stars faced each other in high school.
A.L Brown went on to win the 3A state championship, and Means represented North Carolina in the 1989 Shrine Bowl all-star game.
At North Carolina, where they played for coach Mack Brown (now at Texas), Means made all-ACC and Morton was an academic all-conference player.
Means left UNC early and was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the 1993 NFL draft. In his second year, he helped the Chargers reach Super Bowl XXIX. They lost to the San Francisco 49ers despite a Means touchdown run.
Means played eight seasons with three teams, including the 2000 season - his last - with the Carolina Panthers.
Morton's seven-year NFL career started with the Oakland Raiders when he was picked in the fourth round of the 1995 draft. He played with four different teams, including the St. Louis Rams when they beat the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.
"He tells me I was the one that held him back in college," jokes Means. "He reminds me he won a state championship ring and a Super Bowl ring. The only one he didn't win is when we were together in college."
As an ex-NFL player, Morton attended World League of American Football tryouts in Florida in 2007 as an aspiring referee. Learning the basics, he returned to Kannapolis and attended the required rules clinics and scrimmages, then passed his National Federation of State High Schools Association's officials exam.
Morton became a member of the regional Metrolina Athletic Officials Association and was assigned to junior varsity and varsity games in the Charlotte area.
"I think the main thing my playing experience did for me was not let me get so far behind," Morton said. "I understand formations and game situations. ... It probably makes for a better learning curve for officiating. I don't think it makes me as good as other officials, but playing at the speed and seeing the speed at those (pro) levels, it helps me see things easier."
Morton, who opened his dental practice in Kannapolis in 2007, admits that some fellow officials, coaches and fans - but few players - recognize him by name. He jokes that it's not always a good thing, because he's the center of attention if people think he's made a bad call.
A good call was the one Means' wife made to Morton's wife, asking how her husband got started in officiating. That led to Means going through the same channels as Morton and earning his stripes this season.
Means had never left football, staying involved as a youth league developer, a high school and college coach, and camp director. He spent a couple of training camps assisting the Atlanta Falcons through the NFL's Minority Coaching Fellowship Program. He is a regular guest on Charlotte sports radio station WFNZ-AM's Frank & Buck Show.
Both Means and Morton say they are aware of the NFL's desire to have former players develop into NFL referees and would welcome the opportunity.
It is hoped that Means won't hold Morton back. Or vice versa.