BOARDMAN – In 2019, Boardman’s Rob Luklan, an Atlantic Coast football official since 2013, tore his Achilles tendon then in 2020, caught COVID and was sidelined for several games.
He admits to struggling to finish the season upon his return, despite clearance from his doctor.
In 2021, he regained his health, was in top form once again and while he had hoped for a post-season assignment after his COVID year – he did not receive one despite being strongly considered – worked a full schedule and was selected as part of the ACC officiating that worked the TransPerfect Music City Bowl between Purdue and Tennessee, won by the Boilermakers in overtime, 48-45.
In ’22, Luklan finished his 24th season on the Division I level – he just completed his 31st overall at the collegiate level – working 15 games which included 11 ACC contests, the Week Zero game between Florida A&M and North Carolina, an FCS contest and the Chick Fil-et kick-off between then No. 3 Georgia and No. 10 Oregon, a game won by this year’s No. 1 ranked FBS play-off entry Bulldogs, 49-3.
He had yet another memorable season as a back judge and for his efforts was rewarded with his 15th post-season assignment, being chosen to work this year’s Valero Alamo Bowl which pits No.20 Texas against No. 12 Washington on December 29.
The game will be televised to a national audience by ESPN beginning at 9 p.m. Luklan said travel was a challenge at times but was pleased with his performance this past season.
“I felt like I had a good year and while the first of anything that you do remains a special memory, your upcoming assignment is also your most important so you need to remain focused,” he said recently from his Boardman residence. “Travel always keeps you busy but more so this year because there weren’t as many flights going to the cities for the games of which we were assigned.
“I probably traveled in excess of 20,000 miles and actually drove to the Duke-Pitt game in Pittsburgh, also driving to games I had at the University of Connecticut and Rhode Island.
A 1981 graduate of Cardinal Mooney High, Luklan earned his BS in business degree from YSU in 1987 where he was a four-year letterwinner in baseball for the Penguins. A former sandlot standout in the area’s Class B and AA leagues, he is still considered one of the finest area sandlot baseball players in the glorious amateur baseball history of the Mahoning Valley.
Luklan began his officiating career at age 23, working area scholastic games as a member of the Youngstown Football Officials Association. Five years later at age 28, he was selected to become a member of the Ohio Athletic Conference officiating staff, working under the guidance and tutelage of Curbstone Coaches Hall of Fame honoree and OAC supervisor of officials, Dr. Larry Glass.
“I consider Dr. Glass my mentor,” Luklan added. “He had patience with me, always gave me guidance and direction and I cannot thank him enough for all that he has done for me. He took a big chance on me and for that I will always be grateful.”
After spending seven seasons in the OAC, Luklan moved over to the Mid-American Conference (2002-11) where he was selected to work four conference championship games.He earned his first bowl assignment while in the MAC, an assignment that he says he will never forget.
“It was the 2005 Poinsettia Bowl between Colorado State and Navy,” Luklan added. “The bowl was originally an armed forces football championship played from 1952-55 and it marked the first time that the game returned to the bowl line-up.
“Notre Dame’s famed Rudy Reuttiger was the guest speaker at our luncheon, which was held on a docked aircraft carrier. Everything was just so incredibly special to me because it was my first time working a bowl game.”
From the Mid-American Conference, he moved over to the Big Ten Conference for four seasons and during his 10 years in the ACC has worked two championship games as well as the Cactus Bowl, Citrus Bowl, Peach Bowl and famed Army-Navy game, which is considered a bowl assignment.
“The emotion you experience at an Army-Navy game is second to none,” he noted.
To date, Luklan has worked 282 games – the Alamo Bowl will be his 283 overall – and he is hoping that he can stay healthy so he can make it to that magical 300 games worked plateau on the Division I level. Including non-Division I games that he has officiated, his total is more than 350 games worked.He notes that the upcoming FBS championship games will be something to watch.
“Any of the four teams can become his year’s national champion, they are all that good,” Luklan stated. “After officiating that Georgia-Oregon game early in the season, there is a reason Georgia went from No. 3 to the No. 1 seed in the post-season. They are well-coached, well-disciplined and well-conditioned.”
A local high school basketball official who works both boys and girl’s games, Luklan also works girls’ softball games in and around the Mahoning Valley for the OHSAA (Ohio High School Athletic Association).
He said ACC supervisor of football officials, Dennis Hennigan, is one of the very best conference supervisors.
“During my time in the ACC, Dennis Hennigan has been a great boss and a delight to work for,” Luklan said. “He is a director who is available all times of the day, answers your questions and makes sure things are alright your way.”
In addition to Glass and Hennigan, he credits former NFL official Dick Creed, fellow OAC officials Brian Meenachan and crew chief Ken Swanson, MAC and ACC replay official Jim Visingardi, Big Ten officials Tom Krispinsky and Julius Livas, former Big Ten and NFL supervisor of officials Bob Walker and area high school heads of officials, the late Fred Vicarel and Dutch Miller, Mike Butch and John Mang as those who have been instrumental in advancing his career.
“I am grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way and am especially appreciative of my fellow ACC officials,” noted. “I also get to coordinate officials for the University of Pittsburgh’s pre-season and in-season practices and have worked both Notre Dame and Cleveland Browns practices so it really has been a lot of fun for me.”
Luklan, who retired in 2018 after 31 years as a parole officer for the State of Ohio, will be joined for the game by his family, which includes wife, Sharon, and daughters Kalie and Nicole.