London column: Salisbury’s Phillips emerges as defensive back
Juggling catches aren’t uncommon in football, but Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan says Dominique Phillips’ daily juggling act is a lot more meaningful than the average player’s.
Phillips, a junior who will start at free safety for the Hornets, looks youthful and lighter than his listed 175 pounds, but he’s mature and responsible.
Two things are more important to Phillips than picking off passes and recovering fumblesó his mother and his little sister ó so he juggles football with stints at Taco Bell to help out and make ends meet in a tough economy.
“Dominique understands how football fits into that life puzzle,” Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan said. “He’s working for this ballclub on defense, and he’s holding down another job to help his family, and that kind of makes him unique. He’s got a lot on his shoulders, but he keeps it all in perspective. He juggles the work schedule and the football schedule, and he handles it.
“He’s making it work.”
Phillips is a big part of team chemistry that Pinyan believes is exceptional. The Hornets have experienced soap-opera drama at times in the past, but this season they may be as together as they are talented.
When massive defensive lineman Kiontae Rankin (6-4, 385) was required to run extra sprints after practice recently, his teammates fell into step behind him.
“That was because Kiontae works so hard,” Phillips said. “One man on this team goes down, we’re all there to help him back up.”
Phillips said his role model is Ibn Ali, last year’s quarterback and now a Western Carolina freshman defensive back.
“Ibn was just cool about everything, he was a great player and he made the grades,” Phillips said. “I make good grades and I’m a pretty decent player. At first, it was tough, balancing football and work, but the people at Taco Bell have been great working me around football.”
Phillips, who is listed at 6-foot-1, has talent. He’s long and lean with good speed and exceptional jumping ability. What’s going to surprise opponents most is how hard he hits. For a yes-sir, no-sir type he’s going to leave marks on people.
“I like to take down the receivers, like to make the hits,” said Phillips, who will join all-county Martin Hosch-Cathcart, Jeremiah Stockdale and Joseph Figueroa in what should be a dynamite secondary.
Phillips had a busy, interesting sophomore year.
He was a running back on the jayvees and scored his share of TDs, including two against Ledford.
The SHS varsity had Ali, Dario Hamilton, A.J. Ford and Robbie Pulliam in the backfield, so there wasn’t a place for Phillips on offense, but he did get into several varsity games as a DB and picked off passes against Carson and Central Davidson. The one against Central sealed a CCC victory.
Pinyan believes Phillips could be an exceptional ballcarrier, but the Hornets still have Hamilton, who is destined for records; Ford, who is headed for a 2,000-yard career; and an impressive-looking junior in Ike Whitaker.
“Dominique is unselfish and he’s giving up the chance to carry the football to play where we need him,” Pinyan said. “He has the talent to be one of the best DBs we’ve had. He has the instincts, he has the leaping ability, and he’s not afraid to hit people.”
Phillips is happy just to be in the starting lineup somewhere, and he understands defense is where he’s needed in a program that has produced great success with its two-platoon system.
“We’ve got so many good running backs, and I’ve played different positions before,” Phillips said. “I was a quarterback and free safety in middle school.
“If something happens and they need me at running back, I’m there. They’ve told me to learn the plays and try to keep up with the offense because I might get in some.”The only problem with putting Phillips in the game on offense in blowouts is he might scamper 80 yards in a hurry. Then people will complain about the Hornets running up the score.
Phillips also plays basketball, and he was called up to the varsity at Christmas as a sophomore and performed well the rest of the season.
He wasn’t a big scorer, but he always brought defensive energy off the bench. His hustle made the difference in a key CCC game at Lexington that the Hornets pulled out 70-67.
“This kid is gonna make some noise this year,” Pinyan said. “With Dario and A.J. being seniors now, we’ll have a decision to make next year with Dominique as far as offense or defense.”
Phillips isn’t losing sleep over that decision. Between family, football, work and the start of another school year, there’s not much time to fret about where he’ll be lining up in 2009.
So far, he’s juggled schedules without a hitch. He still hasn’t shown up for work when he’s supposed to be at practice ó or at practice when he’s supposed to be at work.
“Hey, I’m still waiting for Coach to come see me at Taco Bell,” Phillips said with a laugh. “I might throw in a cinnamon twist for him.”