4-star Phillips talks finalists, slight leader
Kyle Phillips had hung out with Derek Barnett plenty of times before. And he had been on the University of Tennessee campus almost too many times to count.
So Phillips' recent official visit to Rocky Top wasn't so much about him; it was about letting his family get a closer look at the Vols' football program while working toward a decision.
"It was kind of the same for me, but my mom (Tennessee State. A.D. Teresa Phillips) got to come and see everything again and like talk to the coaches more than she did a while back," Phillips, one of the top defensive ends in the South, told VolQuest.com in a recent interview. "I feel it was more for her than me."
Hosted by the fellow Midstate standout Barnett, Phillips - who helped spur his Hillsboro High School team to a Class 5A state runner-up finish, said Barnett told Phillips the two could team with the Vols' other incoming recruits and returning players to form a dominant front-line of defense.
"He just said how if they get me, they'll have pretty much one of the best d-lines in the country next year," Phillips said of his talks with Barnett, who this season set a UT freshman record with 20.5 tackles for losses. "He was saying how coaches don't care to play freshmen early and if I'm good enough, I'll get the chance to play right away."
Tennessee's coaches and support staff outlined both academic and athletic plans, illustrating to Phillips how he could come in, play three seasons and if good enough declare for the NFL Draft --- all while taking his degree with him.
"They were just saying like they have the three-year plan, three-and-a-half-year plan for graduation so if I was getting good enough to play after college, I'd already have my degree or if wanted to stay I could work on my next degree," Phillips said. "They were saying they think I can be a really special player. Of course I've got a lot of work to do, but they said I can be really good. With the d-line coming in, they said if they get me they can have one of best lines in the country."
As for Phillips' mother, she's been a vital support during the recruiting process for the 6-foot-3, 270-pound four-star defensive end with nearly 30 major-college offers. Phillips will announce his decision at the U.S. Army All-American Game in San Antonio, Texas, on January 3. Ole Miss, LSU and Tennessee are his finalists.
"Really just getting a better feel for the coaches, getting comfortable," Phillips said of what his mother had targeted to learn on the trip. "Making sure she would be comfortable with me going there. Asking what their plan for me moving forward would be, how they want to use me and stuff.
"I think she had pretty much all her questions answered."
More importantly, she's been there to answer Phillips' questions and simply understand the recruiting process after previously serving as a head basketball coach prior to steering the TSU athletics department.
"It's been a really big resource based off the fact she's been a coach, understands the recruiting process, what it takes. She knows to give me my space and isn't overprotective. She just wants me to make the decision that's best for me. She likes all three schools a lot. Really, it's up to me to decide where I want to go. She's been a blessing in this process because she understands all situations."
Having just graduated from Hillsboro, Phillips isn't really getting to relax during his brief freedom from school. He's still prepping for the bowl game in Texas, and he's still poring over his decision.
"It's kind of hard, I think. I haven't made the decision yet," He said. "I'm announcing at the Army Game. There are a lot of last things going through my head, where I feel I'll be most comfortable at. Where I can go and look out for my family down the road. It's up to me, but I still want their input.
"Now I'm kind of glad I'm out of school so I can focus on that [decision] more. Before I was focusing on school and where I would be going. Now I can focus on that because it's a life-changing decision. I'm glad I've got a little time to decide where to go. Wherever I go, I feel like I can have a pretty good career at."
Phillips outlined his three finalists for VolQuest.com, noting LSU has a slight edge in the bid to land his services in 12 days:
Ole Miss: I just love the environment as a whole. The town in Oxford, the coaching staff is really great. I know a couple recruits there, gained some friends during the process who are headed to Ole Miss next year. So that would be good to know a couple people if I go there. The program is up-and-coming. They're improving every year under Coach (Hugh) Freeze. I can see the program moving up. They're trying to get to the (College Football) Playoff next year and had a good season playing in the SEC West, the best conference in the world. They've been recruiting me since forever, since I first started getting recruited. I really enjoy the program.
LSU: LSU is always a good program. I love Coach (Brick) Haley, the d-line coach, and he's proven to be a really good. Coach (John) Chavis is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. Coach (Les) Miles is a great coach. I just enjoy everything about LSU. They might be my leading school a little bit. They've been recruiting me really hard, and my mom, she really loves them a lot. I'm enjoy everything about LSU pretty much."
UT: I like them a lot, too. They're my instate school. They were my first offer. They've really been on me about staying in state, the home-state thing. And I know a lot of players there. I'm friends with most of them. I enjoy it a lot. They've been really good. I can see them rising up, too. They've got the bowl game this year, another top-five recruiting class this year. I feel like they'r going to be pretty good in the upcoming years.