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Phillips Has Football In His Blood




by Kevin Noonan

He would sit quietly on the floor and watch intently as his father put another game tape into the VCR, and he would listen intently as his father dissected the action for him. He was just a young kid, but he was fascinated by the whole process. And even though he didn't know it at the time, it was the beginning of **Jason Phillips’** football education.

In time, Phillips would become an all-star quarterback on his father's high school team and then an All-American linebacker at Texas Christian University, and that eventually led him to the Ravens, who made him their fifth-round draft pick in last weekend's NFL draft.

"It all started with my father and the impact he had on my life,'' Phillips said. "He never put pressure on me to play football, but I put that pressure on myself because my Dad is my hero and I wanted to live up to him. Football is something special that we were able to share when I was growing up and it was a great bonding experience. I love the game and that's something I got from him – my love and respect for the game of football.''

Jim Phillips was a successful coach at Waller High in Waller, Texas, a small town (population: 2,092) about 20 miles northwest of Houston. He recently took on a new job and a new challenge at Greenville High, about 40 miles northeast of Dallas.

He coached three of his sons at Waller High, including the youngest, Jeremy, who also played quarterback and this past season earned a football scholarship to the University of North Texas.

Jim Phillips said he made a point not to push his sons into football, but considering their background it was probably inevitable they would pick up the sport and gravitate to leadership roles in it.

"If anything, I had to hold Jason back, because he was a real gym rat,'' Jim Phillips said. "We lived right across from the high school field house and Jason used to take my keys and open it up himself. And, with nobody else around, he'd work out by himself. He was always a dedicated, hard-working kid, and even though he had a lot of natural ability he also worked hard every day to get better.''

Jason Phillips laughed when reminded of his gym rat days.

"I'd just grab those keys and my old-style boom box and go work out,'' he said. "Nobody forced me to do it. I just loved to work out and I still do. I love the feeling of accomplishment you get when you really put the time and effort into it.''

And then when he went home, he and his father would talk football for hours. It was a subject of which they never tired.

"Early on, I think Jason understood that football was what put food on the table, he understood that this is what Dad did for a living and that it was important to him,'' Jim Phillips said. "He also understood that we had to win if we wanted to stay around for a while, and I think that's one of the reasons he's always played the game with so much intensity and worked so hard at it.''

That hard-hitting, hard-working approach was one of the things the Ravens liked about Phillips. That's why they drafted him with the 137th overall selection, even though he injured a knee during the scouting combine in February – Phillips will be limited in next weekend's mini-camp, but should be ready when training camp begins in July.

"I think you all have gotten to know that when we take a defensive player, that player has some special traits about him, the way he plays,'' general manager **Ozzie Newsome** said. "And Jason plays that way.''

And **Eric DeCosta**, the Ravens' director of player personnel, made a point to mention Phillips' background as a coach's son and the intelligence he brings to the football field.

Of course, working so closely with his father wasn't always fun, especially since Dad made sure his son earned everything he got.

"At times it could be stressful,'' Jason Phillips admitted. "I mean, sometimes I'd get yelled at during practice, then when I got home I'd get yelled at again. But even when I was getting yelled at I knew how lucky I was to be able to share this experience with my father. And it definitely made me a better player.''

But it didn't save either of them from criticism when the coach's son was thrust into a starring role on his high school team.

"I moved to quarterback my sophomore year and I took a senior's spot and a lot of people didn't like that,'' Jason Phillips said. "And I knew a lot of people were saying I was the quarterback just because I was the coach's kid. That was hard to take at first, because I knew my father would never play me unless he really thought I was the best man for the job. Fortunately, I played pretty well and we started winning some games. But there was definitely some flak at first until I got a chance to prove myself.''

He proved himself enough to be named as the district's player of the year and earn a scholarship to Texas Christian, where he played running back and fullback during his red-shirt freshman year. Then the coaches asked him if he would play on the other side of the ball, and suddenly the high school quarterback was a college linebacker.

"I didn't mind, because I've always been a physical player,'' he said. "And playing quarterback really made me a better defensive player, because I know how the quarterback thinks -- I've been in his shoes.

"So, to me, playing inside linebacker is the best of both worlds and I can't wait to put on that Ravens uniform and show them what I can do there.''

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