NFL hires Sarah Thomas as first full-time female official

The NFL announced Wednesday that Sarah Thomas will become the first full-time female official in the history of the league.

Thomas, a 19-year veteran, will be joining eight other referees granted first-time employment for league games. The nine first-year NFL officials are graduates of the NFL Officiating Development program.  The program trains top college football officials in all aspects of NFL officiating.

Thomas comes backed with a strong resume, having been the first female official to work a major collegiate game and spending eight years with Conference USA.

"Our incoming officials have all demonstrated that they are among the best in college football," NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said in a statement. "We are excited about having them join us."

The Mississippi native started her career in 1999 with high school football. Thomas did some sideline work for the Browns, Saints and Colts mini camp practices in the past, but ultimately proved her skills at the NCAA level. In 2009, she refereed the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, making history as the first female official at a college bowl game.

When she's not officiating, Thomas works as a pharmaceutical sales rep and is also a mother of three children ages 2, 11 and 15.

"I've just been doing this truly because I love it," she said. "The guys don't think of me as a female, they see me as just another official."