This story originally ran in the Summer issue of Cat Tracks Magazine.
Brandon Phillips lucky? You bet. Unlike most of us, Brandon Phillips gets a second chance.
The NCAA granted Phillips a sixth year of eligibility after his knee injury cost him most of this senior year. Unlike the other seniors who graduated last season, Phillips gets one last shot at a bowl game.
Phillips had planned on trying to make it in the NFL when he learned he could have a shot at an extra year of eligibility. He went from a sure-fire draft pick to a player who hoped to latch on as a free agent after the injury. Needless to say, he didn’t think twice about going back to school.
"This whole thing meant so many things to me on so many different levels," Phillips said. "From just the most common and simple idea of getting to be a college student for another year, to all the way down to how I look at football and how I look at life. How I appreciate things a lot more."
He was having a great season before the knee injury against Oregon ended things. Known as one of the hardest workers on the team, it was a crushing blow for a guy who was doing it the right way. Phillips suddenly hoped that he was healthy enough to have a shot at impressing NFL scouts.
Now he has another year to prove himself. As a rare sixth-year senior he has a final chance to show the world he is NFL material.
"Things definitely were not as good as they would have been if I had been able to finish out the season," Phillips admitted. "Would I have finished out the season healthy I would have been looking like things would have been good for me. After getting hurt some teams were still expressing interest. I was still going to get a shot, but it was nowhere near the opportunity it was going to be had I finished out the season."
But it really isn’t about the NFL. Sure that’s nice, but Phillips wants a bowl game. Not only for himself and this year’s team, but for his former teammates who never had the chance at the postseason after a tumultuous four years. The goal is a bowl game. Anything less will be a disappointment. Phillips is confident, as if it was almost preordained.
"It’s another chance," Phillips admits. "Not only for these guys now--basically nobody on this team has been to a bowl game--but for the guys who I played with before. I held the seniors I came in with in high esteem. I had a lot of respect for those guys because of all the hardships that we had been through. I feel bad for them, more so because I get another chance to do it. Everything is looking so positive with this coaching staff, and they did not get a chance to do it."
He is taking this very seriously. Phillips wants to be able to look last year’s seniors in the eyes.
"They’re a little jealous and I have that weight on my shoulders that I will be playing for them,” Phillips said. “Hopefully they’ll be able to watch and be happy with what I’m doing."
He should be a vital cog on the offensive line, but there are no guarantees. Phillips missed much of the spring with another injury and the new coaching staff has no loyalty to anyone. All jobs are open and the best players will see the field. That being said, it would be a major shock if Phillips isn’t a starter against NAU. He’s one of the biggest offensive linemen on the roster and is strong and athletic. He has the experience and the technique that should make him the leader of the group.
Phillips’ entire career has been full of turmoil. He was a top-100 recruit coming out of Corona del Sol High School in Tempe under Dick Tomey, but never made an impact as a defensive lineman. After John Mackovic came on board the coaching staff converted him to the offensive line.
He adjusted to the move quite well. He was named Most Improved Offensive Player in the 2001 spring practice and started 13 games over the next two seasons.
Now, six years after he first stepped on campus, Phillips gets a final shot at collegiate greatness. He is under his third coaching staff and his fourth head coach. He, more than anyone, can compare the Mike Stoops regime to the prior staffs. Unlike the fifth-year seniors, Phillips actually played for Tomey and Mackovic and will now get a chance to compete for Stoops.
"The new staff is really good," said Phillips. "They are intense. One thing I’ll say with other staffs we’ve had before is that every coach had their own style. This staff, they’re all the same in terms of being real intense. They are real hands-on, in your face, in the play type coaches that are always on you. That’s a little different. It’s the little subtleties that make it different. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s the subtleties that win and lose games. Everyone is feeling real good about what’s going on here. Hopefully that shines through."
Phillips assumes he will play football professionally, but nothing is guaranteed. When he tore up the knee against the Ducks, he didn’t know if that would be the last football game he ever played. Now he knows he has at least 11 left, and more likely many, many more.
"I feel blessed to be here and am enjoying my time out here," Phillips said. "You do miss this. It’s hard right now, but when you get taken out of it, with the chance of never playing again, you miss everything. You miss all of the little things you thought you could easily forget about.
"I kind of got to do things over a little bit."
Cat Tracks Magazine is a 40-page glossy, monthly magazine devoted to University of Arizona athletics. For more information call (520) 327-0705.