Harrison Phillips knows that even when he’s done with football, he’ll still have a family. That’s his plan.
But the Millard West graduate and current defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills may never have had a family as large as he had Saturday, when he held a youth football camp at Omaha South for at-risk students from third to eighth grade.
For the former Nebraska Gatorade athlete of the year, who attended Stanford, the camp’s success is exactly what he wants, especially when he’s done with football. His family will take many forms.
“That’s going to be a classroom that I work with four days a week. That’s going to be an after-school program that I go to every couple days, or that’s going to be the kids that I coach, if I’m a football/wrestling coach, whatever I decide to do,” Phillips said Tuesday during an interview with “The Bottom Line.” “Even if I have to work professionally, I’m still going to have that community aspect to me. So I’ll always have a big family in those terms.”
Phillips shared more about the success of his Playmakers camp, adjusting to life in the NFL, chasing Josh Allen in practice and lining up against Tom Brady during his “TBL” interview. See a transcript of select excerpts below or watch the full interview at Omaha.com/sports.
On how Stanford prepared him for the NFL and for life:
“Some of the things that we prided ourselves in as a Stanford football team were mental toughness and handling adversity. And so at any time, we never knew what was going to come. We could be out pushing a Gator with 1,000 pounds behind it; we could be pulling a rope with 25 guys on the other end, or five-minute bursts of climbers. It was always surprise workouts and surprise lifts. We just knew that you always had to make sure that you showed up and you were activated and ready to go.”
On his Playmakers camp:
“Outside looking in, it was a phenomenal day. I had some parents and some close family friends volunteer to hand out the goodie bags some of our sponsors were able to put together. I was able to sign a bunch of my football cards and pictures and water bottles and Bills gear and stuff. We put ’em in a bunch of drawstring bags as exit presents for the guys having a good day. My family and my friends were asking all the kids, ‘How was today?’ and to hear their responses of ‘Best day ever!’ and ‘I can’t wait to do this again’ and ‘Why is it over so soon?’ — some unbelievable responses. That’s what matters. We had a beautiful day, a beautiful morning, a little overcast, so it wasn’t too hot out there on the turf. We had over 250 total people out there. I was just really blown away and really optimistic about what we can do in the upcoming year to blow this up even bigger.”
On his expectations for his campers:
"There's two huge things. No. 1 was I wanted to create friendships. I think that Unified partnered with Special Olympics is doing a fantastic thing. I think that that Unified Sports, creating lifelong friendships with the athletes with the partners, I think that that's fantastic. So I wanted to get that at a younger age. There's no real Unified Sports for third through eighth grade yet; it's all kind of high school. So I wanted to give them that and then also, think of all the fantastic qualities that sports in general bring. How about things like sacrifice, sportsmanship, celebrating other's wins more than yourself, failing and getting back up. And that all encompasses confidence. And so I wanted that day to be every single kid, no matter their capacity, was confident enough to go try the drill, to reach their hands out and try to catch the ball, or to throw the ball and try to hit it through the hoop. And I thought that the camp did a fantastic job of trying to bridge some of those gaps that I'm passionate about. And like I said, the day was just full of infectious joy and love, and all the participants were just raving with laughter and smiles, and the volunteers as well. And so that was kind of the area, the niche that I wanted to reach."
On the volunteers at the camp:
"The things I just mentioned were the main reasons I put this camp on, but some of the byproducts of the camps and the people helping out, they also got the opportunity to see and hear and what a fireman looks like in full gear and hear his breath, and a lot of the kids were scared and said, “I think it's Darth Vader.” But the fact that they were able to give their demonstration and say hey, “If you see me, if you hear me, if you hear this beat, come to me. Do not be scared of me. I'm here to help you.” They were able to go through the fire truck. The police came and did a demonstration. Their K-9s did a full demonstration. We got officer Ken to get bitten with a sleeve on. We had the police officers on their horses come and give a demonstration, so they learned a lot about that stuff. But the volunteers that were there were family friends of mine who have supported me and raised me to get me to the NFL. And then the really cool thing is my station leaders. I had 10 different stations from quarterback station to photo booth station and tug of war and field goal kick, you know, all those fun stations, a water balloon station, was run by high school football players. We had about 30 kids from Millard West, 30 kids from Omaha South and 30 kids from Bellevue West. We got about one kid from each team to be at a station, so if you went to Station 1, there was one Millard West kid, one Bellevue West kid and one Omaha South kid all leading that drill. We had some of the coaches that came and people like that around Omaha said, “How cool that you get to unify the high school players as well, and they're all getting to meet new people. Even though they might be rivals on the field, sports brings people together.” And maybe that first 10 minutes it was a little awkward, but by the end of the day they were all high-fiving and hand-shaking each other, and they got to make some new friends, too.”
On his plans for a family:
"I have a pretty serious girlfriend right now. And she kind of says the number that she might think is the ideal number for her. So I’m going to have to be a very, very nice dad if I want as many as I would like. But I think that you know, she's got to carry it for nine months, it'd be her decision, probably. But no, I think I would love to have a very nice big family. But the best part about that is I'm always going to be doing stuff in the community. And when things calm down for me, and I'm somewhere for 12 months, a year, you know, if I’m done with football, and I live here in Omaha for 12 months a year, I'm going to have another family, and that's going to be a classroom that I work with four days a week. That's going to be an after-school program that I go to every couple days, or that's going to be the kids that I coach, if I'm a football/wrestling coach, whatever I decide to do. Even if I have to work professionally, I'm still going to have that community aspect to me. So I’ll always have a big family in that terms."
On the camp's sponsors:
"It was unbelievable the amount of response I had. I was so nervous about that. I had no idea, because I didn't go to Nebraska. I was nervous that maybe I don't have the pull that I would have had in Buffalo. In Buffalo it was super easy to get as many sponsors as I needed. But Omaha came out and supported. We had Nissan of Omaha, Sequence Health were our diamond sponsors that donated the most. Becky Tindall with NP Dodge. Doug Pick with Medicine Man Pharmacy. Fyre Nutrition donated a shaker bottle for everybody. Reality-Based Leadership. Quality One Graphics. Runza donates a kids meal to every kid that came, over 150 kids. Talk about entertainment, James Cloyd was our DJ. Rotella’s and Hy-Vee partnered to get all of our volunteers lunch. Locker Room did our shirts. Cory Juma with State Farm also donated money. And then we had some small stuff. Teddy Grahams donated a bunch of stuff. Krispy Kreme came and donated. Sunrise Donuts donated. It was unbelievable the amount of stuff that we had. And the thing that worked out so good is we raised a lot of sponsors, so that we could put on such a nice, well-run camp. And so to grow it for next year, we're going to need for those sponsors to also pay it forward and try to recruit one other kid. When I left camp, I told all the kids there, 'Your task in the next year is to find a new friend and invite him to this camp, so we can grow it.' And if we open it up to high school, you know, talking with Special Olympics, they said that this could grow to 500 kids. And so we're still going to be looking for more sponsorships, and there's plenty of ways to get involved. But anybody just reaching out to me on any social media is the easiest.”
On his current preparation for Year 2:
"As we speak right now I'm actually sitting in the Millard West Wildcat 3 weight room. I didn't plan too perfectly. I was just finishing one of my lifts, and it went a little late. If have a couple different places that I go and train. I train with Bud Crawford and his trainer, Jamie Belt. I also have my high school trainer that I've trained with, Matt Richardson. But I come up to the high school and run with them just so I have a group of kids that I can run with, and I can push them, they can push me. I have a couple gym memberships I go to around, but right now it's different than last year, where I was kind of beat up after going through the whole draft process, combine process, senior bowl, all that. My body's a little more rested now. And so I can really fine tune the things I need to work on. I have a year of football under my belt, and so I know exactly what I need to work on. And I'm trying to improve that."
On what he learned from his rookie year:
“I think the No. 1 thing I learned is you can’t compare yourself to others. The NFL, and this isn’t my experience, but I have a lot of friends that played in the NFL from Stanford as well as other people that were on our team I became friends with. Sometimes, it’s not always that the best player is going to play every snap. One of my buddies was an undrafted free-agent receiver, and I could tell that he was unbelievable. And he was better than that team’s receivers, but they paid those receivers more. And if you pay somebody $10 million a year, you’re going to give them as many chances as you can to make those plays and make them look right. And so that was something I had to learn: There’s still some politics involved in the NFL. But I was lucky that up front for our defense, that didn’t affect me. We had a four-man rotation. I got to play under some unbelievable defensive linemen and had a hell of a year. But that’s one thing I learned as I talked to some of my friends that are now entering the NFL, the Stanford graduates of this class. That’s some of the advice that I want to give them: Just be patient and always work.”
On chasing Josh Allen in practice:
"Because you can't hit him, every single time you're close to him it's an argument of if you would have got him or not. Every once in a while somebody will get a sack and run by him and be like, 'Gotcha, sack, sack, sack!' and then he continues on the play, walks back and says, 'You think you would have tackled me right there? Hell no!' So it's a fun little dynamic. Every quarterback should want to be a pocket passer: Use your arm first, legs second. And we brought in some fantastic offensive linemen, and our offense is clicking so well that hopefully he doesn't have to rely on his legs so much. He should have some clean pockets that he can step up and show off that he has the strongest arm in the NFL."
On facing Tom Brady:
“It’s surreal. It reinstates every time that I stayed in the gym when it was closing or every time I was the last kid at the workout. You know, it was all working up for those moments and those opportunities. And so every time if I’m going to go get under a bench press bar with a ton of weight on it, or every time I’m super tired and about to line up and do another sprint, I try to put myself in a game. I try to put myself like, ‘All right, you gotta have as much energy the last play of the game.’ And a lot of times, when I visualized that, it was going against people like Tom Brady, or in college like the Marcus Mariotas, and it was always you put yourself in that real moment. And now I put myself in those moments since I was a kid and Tom Brady was playing. To now have those chances, it just kind of comes full circle. You work while you wait, and hopefully you get an opportunity.”