Stanford lost a key piece to the NFL when defensive end Solomon Thomas was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the third pick of the draft in late April.
Harrison Phillips has stepped in to fill the void.
The two play different positions — Thomas is a defensive end, while Phillips makes his living in the A and B gaps — but bring similar leadership to the Cardinal.
“Harrison Phillips is the unquestioned leader there, and he’s done a phenomenal job, but it’s going to take all of them playing together,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said, via the San Francisco Chronicle’s Rusty Simmons. “Harrison has done a great job of leading the guys, but he’s also bringing the guys along. He’s not just staying out front by himself.”
A gap-plugger who excels mostly in non-statistical categories, Phillips has recorded 55 tackles (11.5 for loss) in 19 career games played. Here are 5 things to know about Phillips.
1. He was the Gatorade Nebraska Football Player of the Year in 2013
Phillips’ list of accolades on his Stanford athletics biography section reads like a grocery list: 2013 Gatorade Nebraska Football Player of the Year, 2013 Super State first team and honorary captain, 2013 all-state selection and honorary captain, 2013 All-Nebraska first team and honorary captain, 2013 All-Nebraska Class A first team, 2013 All-Metro Conference first team, 2013 Coaches’ All-District, 2013 Metro Defensive Lineman Player of the Year, 2013 Academic All-Metro, 2013 team captain, represented Nebraska on U-19 National Football Team at 2014 International Bowl, selected for Nebraska Shrine Bowl — *comes up for air* — 2012 Super State second team, 2012 All-Nebraska first team, 2012 All-Nebraska Class A, 2012 Coaches’ All-Division, 2012 All-Metro Conference first team, 2012 Coaches’ All-Academic first team, 2011 all-state honorable mention, 2011 All-Nebraska Class A honorable mention, 2011 Coaches’ All-District, 2010 freshman team captain. I’m tired from just reading that.
2. He’s a double major and a 2-time Pac-12 All-Academic
While leading Stanford’s defense, Phillips is also pulling a 3.34 GPA while shouldering a double-major workload. The big fella is studying Sociology, and Science, Technology and Society. He mentioned (in a very well-written piece by The Mercury News’ Vytas Mazeika) that his upbringing in Omaha, Neb., has inspired him to help those who are at a disadvantage.
“I had a fantastic family background,” Phillips said of his time growing up in Nebraska. “They gave everything they could to me so I could live and get everything I needed, but I definitely saw struggle. In my community I saw other athletes that were probably just as good or had as much talent as I had, but didn’t make it out and didn’t get the scholarships due to disadvantages in their home life. And the way the system was set up was stacked against them, so I had a large passion for that.”
3. Phillips helps feed the homeless on a weekly basis
Phillips currently works with two non-profits to help disadvantaged kids, visits kids in the oncology ward at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital ( per NBC Sports Bay Area’s Mindi Bach) and also volunteers at a local shelter to help feed the homeless on Fridays.
“He’s always had that inkling to go help,” his mother said. “He definitely has a very, very gentle and soft heart, and he wears his heart on his sleeve. He always is there for the underdog, or the kid that got left behind, or the kid that was bullied. He was always there to grab that kid and make them part of the group.”
“One thing you love about Harrison is, every day he’s going to get something done,” Shaw told Bach. “On the field, off the field, in the community, he’s always got a million things going on. But nothing ever suffers. He does everything at a high level.”
4. His nickname is “Horrible Harry”
Phillips was named after his great-grandfather, who his mother said was the life of the party and carried the nickname of “Dirty Harry.” When Phillips was young, his parents needed a nickname for him, and his mother (who was a teacher) turned to a series of children’s books with the same name.
“It wasn’t that he was so horrible,” said his mother, Tammie Rose Phillips, . “His great grandfather was quite a character. He was absolutely a barrel of fun and a great guy, so we named Harrison after him. And then we had a choice between Dirty Harry — you know, Clint Eastwood — which is what they called grandpa. So we thought, ‘Well, we can’t go with Dirty Harry, we probably better go with Horrible Harry.’
“So then we read all those books and he loved it and he thought it was funny that he was named that, too.”
But judging by his many efforts to improve the lives of those less fortunate, he’s anything but horrible. In this well-produced interview, Phillips does admit that when it comes to football, sometimes he has to switch from a big guy with a big heart to a big guy with a huge mean streak.
5. Phillips was a 3-time state champion in wrestling — and can do a split “on command”
The defensive tackle is abnormally flexible, which complements his powerful upper body well. A lot of that dexterity is credited to his background in wrestling, in which Phillips won the Nebraska state title in the heavyweight division in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. Thomas weighed in on how his unusual physical attributes make him special.
“He’ll be really low in a position that you think he’d get knocked over in,” Thomas explained, again via NBC Sports Bay Area’s Mindi Bach. “Because of how flexible he is, it’s not a problem for him to get in that position and stay there and move on from there. It definitely shows up on his film.”
“I think the violence that wrestling brings, and balance and being comfortable in weird positions, wrestling has a ton of scrambling, as it’s called, you just know your body and know what you can do,” Phillips said. “I have tremendous flexibility, and I use everything to my advantage.”
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