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‘It was just instinct’: Soccer referee goes viral for doing ‘Matrix-level’ splits during youth match

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A 45-year-old soccer referee with the agility of a cat and flexibility of a rubber band shot to Internet stardom this week after expertly doing the splits to avoid interfering with play during a youth match last weekend. But if you ask Jerry Nash about it, he’ll tell you he was simply trying to avoid getting hit by the ball.

“If you were in the middle of the street you don’t think how you’re going to get out the way of a car, you just try to get out of the way,” Nash, who’s been refereeing various youth sports for a decade, said on Thursday. “Anything that comes flying at you really fast, you’re gonna do what you got to do.”

“It was just instinct,” he added, noting Saturday’s game between Iowa Rush and Rush Wisconsin-West during the Iowa Rush Champions Cup in Ankeny, Iowa, wasn’t even the first time he executed the gymnastics move during a game.

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“I’ve done that plenty of times,” he said, adding he’s also flipped, leapt and once even executed a back handspring to avoid getting beaned. “It’s just a natural reaction to get out of the way.”

What isn’t natural for most people, and what appeared to fascinate Nash’s growing base of Internet fans (Nash’s feat even made it to ESPN’s “SportsCenter” this week), was his nonchalance. Seemingly with no big effort, Nash goes from being upright to a center split in, well, a split second.

Deadspin called the move an “impressive feat of athleticism.” SB Nation said it looked so seamless that Nash must have practiced the move in front of a mirror first. (Nash assured the Post he did not.) ABC News said Nash’s move earned a “well-deserved round of applause.” Top Drawer Soccer declared Nash a member of the refereeing hall of fame. And the Russian-government owned Sputnik news service even complimented Nash, calling his move “cool” and Nash “tremendous.”

Perhaps the biggest compliment, however, came from Nash’s employer, Steve Lovgren, who owns Soccer Management Company, which ran last weekend’s tournament. After describing Nash’s move as “Matrix-level stuff,” Lovgren said as soon as he saw the video, he knew exactly who it was.

“(Nash) is a unique character,” Lovgren said. “I can guarantee, out of 100 refs, none of them could do what he did. The timing of it, the mind-set …”

Lovgren’s worked with Nash for two years on and off and described Nash as one of the most humble and dedicated people he knows.

“He’s very gung-ho about refereeing and being involved,” Lovgren said, noting he’s already lined up Nash to work two more tournaments next month, both in Nebraska, where Nash lives.

Nash agreed that refereeing is his passion, although he first got into it simply for the extra cash. Now a stay-at-home dad to five children, ranging in age from three to 17, however, Nash has turned what used to be a lucrative hobby into his main occupation at nights and on the weekends. He referees year round for both indoor and outdoor soccer, as well as basketball, baseball and softball.

“It’s not about the money,” Nash said. “I just like doing it.”

Nash keeps in good shape but doesn’t do anything special to stay flexible, such as yoga or Pilates.

“To be honest, I don’t even know what that is,” he said.

Instead he just refs — a lot.

“I can ref eight soccer games in a day easily,” he said, noting he always take time to stretch his legs before and after every match. “For a 45-year-old ref, I’m pleased with the condition of my body.”

Nash plans to keep refereeing into the foreseeable future (“anytime, anywhere”), but would prefer not to become Internet-famous again. His refereeing philosophy is that the refs shouldn’t be the stars; the players should.

“When you look at the video, don’t look at me, look at the kids,” he said. “The girl made an amazing recovery on the ball that would’ve hit me.”

He added: “If you’re gonna watch soccer to watch the referee, you should rethink what you’re doing.”