METAIRIE, La. -- Sarah Thomas was back in a familiar position this week, working as an official during the New Orleans Saints' minicamp practices.
That's something the Mississippi native has been doing for nearly a decade with a regional officiating crew -- long before she broke ground as the NFL's first female official this year.
"We feel like we've kind of been part of her growth, because our first training camp in Jackson (Mississippi) in '06, she worked it, '07, '08," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "So we've seen her progression more than any of the other teams have.
Payton, who has a daughter, said it's meaningful for him to see a woman break ground in this business. But he said aside from that, Thomas has earned her promotion based solely on her credentials.
"I think that it's significant someone like her has this opportunity, because here's the thing: She's gonna do well. It's not because it sounds good or it's a PR move," Payton said. "We've watched her grow, and she's gonna be outstanding. She's got the right demeanor, she's sharp. I think when you have a daughter you pay attention (to) that, yet if you didn't have children you'd pay attention, and it's important."
Thomas, a former college basketball player, also became the first woman to work college games in 2007.
She worked in Conference USA and the United Football League, and then worked NFL preseason games in 2013 and '14 as part of the league's officiating development program.