Adrian Phillips entered Texas four years ago with one goal in mind: to win a national championship.
Fast-forward to the present and the 5’11” safety is a member of the only Texas recruiting class in a decade not to have appeared in a BCS game.
“There’s a sense of urgency among this senior class,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “They were recruited during the 2009 title game period. That was part of their reason for coming here.”
Phillips has matured tremendously since 2010. The Garland native did not start a game his freshman season, recording nine tackles mostly in special team’s situations. His sophomore season he more than quadrupled his tackles, recording 43 tackles and appearing in all 12 games.
Things turned sour in 2012 for Phillips and the defense, however. Texas’ defense was, statistically, the worst in the school’s history, and Phillips struggled individually as well.
The defense finished 74th in the nation in points allowed per game, surrendering 29.2 points a contest. Phillips ended the season third on the team in tackles (72) behind Kenny Vaccaro and Quandre Diggs but wasn’t without his struggles. Phillips missed several open field tackles and even temporarily lost his starting job midway through the season.
“The defense [has] a higher standard,” Phillips said. “When you turn on the tape from last year, you aren't happy about what you saw. You just really looked at yourself and really made it up in your mind that you don't want to be that type of player again.”
Now that Vaccaro, the leader in the secondary, moved on to the NFL, it’s Phillips' responsibility to carry the load at safety next to junior Mykkele Thompson. There is depth behind the pair, but Phillips must pave the way for a stronger defense.
“The secondary can be really good,” Phillips said. “Coach has been on top of us really hard. He wants us to get back to the level [of] Michael Huff, Mike Griffin. The fact we have the ability to play eight people, it makes the defense that much better.”
Phillips believes the defense is ready to make a statement but acknowledges that there is no room for complacency.
“It's really week-to-week,” Phillips said. “Say we do well against New Mexico State, we want to raise the bar the next week and the next week."
Phillips and the defense are eager to see a different color other than orange lining up across from them. It’s time for a new year and a new beginning for Phillips.
“There's new blood on the field,” Phillips said. You've been playing against the same people for three, four months, if you count the spring. Game week is exciting. Everyone has that feeling that we're about to take off and now it's time to show the world this Saturday.”