In high school, Adrian Phillips was an offensive powerhouse.
He recorded 949 passing yards and five touchdowns as a quarterback while tallying 72 catches for 1,307 yards and 14 touchdowns as a wide receiver. Now, he’s playing that quarterback role on the other side of the ball as one Texas’ leading defensive backs.
“He’s a quarterback,” head coach Mack Brown said. “He’s a really smart guy. He was a quarterback in high school. He knows what the offense is doing and can move people around. That’s why he’s so vital.”
Texas has been known to recruit offensive stars as defensive backs in the past. The Longhorns tried to recruit Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, both Heisman Trophy winners, as defensive players before they signed to their respective schools. This time it worked out with Phillips.
Phillips has become a prominent player in the Texas backfield. In his sophomore season, he recorded 43 tackles compared with just nine his freshman year. Phillips suffered a shoulder injury in his second year and underwent surgery that slightly halted his junior campaign until he was fully able to recover.
“The biggest difference between this year and last for Adrian is that he’s healthy,” Brown said.
This season, Phillips has recorded 39 tackles, already more than half of the 72 he tallied last year. He leads the team with 27 solo tackles and is one of only two defensive backs to record an interception so far this season.
Phillips has also been a quintessential role model in the adjustment defensive coordinator Greg Robinson has gone through since he took over the defensive play-caller duties from Manny Diaz.
“We needed guys to, one, buy into Greg and sell the other players that he is going to help us win,” Brown said. “Adrian was a big part of that. Him and Jordan Hicks said, ‘This guy knows what he’s doing. Let’s keep our mouths shut and get to it.’”
In that transition, which happened following an embarrassing loss to BYU early in September, Phillips hasn’t seen his role change. Despite the different schemes that Robinson has drawn up, he feels his responsibilities are still the same.
“[My role] hasn’t really changed,” Phillips said. “I still do what I do. Wherever they need me I’m there. I still have the same responsibilities that I did in coach Diaz’s defense. Of course coach Robinson’s defense is a different scheme but at the end of the stay it’s all
Robinson has also taken a liking to Phillips, citing his work ethic and consistent play as some of his key features. So far this season, the safety has had two nine tackle games and is just three tackles away from the leading tackler on the team.
“Adrian Phillips is an outstanding football player,” Robinson said. “Coaches sometimes get seduced by physical skills, but you have got to learn how to quantify the intangible characteristics. That kid is physically gifted but the intangible characteristics that he brings to our defense is hard to quantify.”