AS CLEMSON pounded Virginia Tech, 38-10, in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship last weekend, former high school standout Jerry Magallanes was dodging players on the field just as he did during his glory days as a tailback at Father Judge.

But Magallanes was not taking handoffs or catching passes out of the backfield as he once did. Instead, the 48-year-old was dressed in his beloved black and white referee stripes.

"It was probably the pinnacle of my career to be chosen to officiate the ACC championship," Magallanes said. "It's the top of the pyramid. When you're chosen to be part of that, it's a thrill and very special."

Magallanes, who has been a referee for almost 25 years, was raised not far from his current home in Cheltenham, Montgomery County. As a kid, he often watched great college running backs like Earl Campbell and Tony Dorsett and decided that he wanted to follow in their footsteps.

Magallanes went on to have an outstanding career at Father Judge. As a senior, he led the Crusaders to the 1981 Philadelphia Catholic League championship, rushing for 1,388 yards and 22 touchdowns. Magallanes, who also returned kicks, was honored on the Daily News' Catholic League All-Decade Team of the '80s.

"I credit the coaching staff with training us to work hard, never being satisfied and always wanting to get better," Magallanes said. "That stuck with me in my football career and then as an official as well."

The possibility of becoming a referee had not yet crossed his mind when Magallanes accepted an offer to play at Hofstra. He remained there for two seasons, but after suffering an ankle injury, Magallanes made the decision to finish up his communications degree at Temple.

Not long after graduating, Magallanes was approached by a childhood friend, who offered him a chance to help officiate a local peewee game. At 24, he figured it would be a great way to stay involved in football and agreed to give it a try.

"It only took one play. I was hooked," Magallanes said. "I realized that I had another love of football in officiating."

His career took off from there, and before he knew it, he was officiating local high school games. Some friends had coaxed Magallanes into joining the Suburban One and Philadelphia Catholic leagues. He quickly found himself working eight to 10 games each week and loving every minute of it.

After just two seasons, Magallanes had already assembled his own officiating crew and was ready to work his first high school playoff game. He continued to progress and passed the test to become a referee at the collegiate level in 1997.

"Bit by bit, I was setting goals that were reachable and then resetting the bar," Magallanes said. "You have plenty of Division II and III schools here in Pennsylvania and the surrounding states, so there's plenty of college football or grass-time, as we call it, to get experience."

Magallanes got his first big break in 2004 when he was working a game at Georgetown. He had been officiating college football at the Division II and Division I-AA levels for almost 7 years and had always followed one rule.

"You've got to officiate like you never know who's watching," he said.

It turns out there were officials from the ACC watching that day, and Magallanes caught their attention. The ACC was so impressed with Magallanes that they invited him to help officiate a spring game at North Carolina the following season. He was then officially hired.

"College football has always been my passion and my love ever since I was a little kid," said Magallanes, who also works for a local property management firm. "I've always had a dream to be part of this level of college football. I'm living my dream right now and very satisfied with where I'm at."

It's difficult for Magallanes to choose the most memorable game of his career, but the games he treasures most are the ones that his wife, Jennifer, his son, R.J., and two daughters, Olivia and Stephanie, are able to attend.

"My wife is a big part of this," Magallanes said. "When I'm away, she takes care of the house and the kids. She's been really supportive over the years, and I owe a lot to her. Without her, I would not be officiating football."

Magallanes was prouder than ever to have wife and kids supporting him at his first ACC championship last weekend.