Before FBS (formerly Division I) football coaches began waging war for the services of Circle (Towanda, Kan.) defensive lineman Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma had an advantage with Jackie Shipp on staff.
Phillips' AAU basketball coach, Steve Young, knew Shipp’s family and his grandfather, Willie Alford, had made their acquaintance as well.
"It was a coincidence, but it was a pretty big factor," Phillips said of the relationships.
Although Phillips, a 6-foot-6, 290-pound defensive tackle, and Shipp cemented a solid relationship, the senior Thunderbird still chose to play the field.
His curiosity allowed Oklahoma State and Kansas State to get their foot in the door only to have it slammed shut by the first team All-Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail (Division IV) League selection’s decision to play for Sooner coach Bob Stoops.
Schools like Auburn, Colorado State, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska and UCLA were also on the radar.
Phillips felt at home with Shipp. And it doesn’t hurt that he will be playing for one of the winningest programs in college football history.
"They hit it off right away," Circle head coach Lee LaMunyon said of Phillips’ and the Sooners. "But there are other great things about Oklahoma. He’s going to a school that has a great football program and so much tradition. How do you walk away from that?"
Growing up Phillips didn’t see himself being a big guy. In fact, he felt just as much at home on a basketball court and on the baseball diamond as he does on a football field. LaMunyon’s bulldozer of a star played all three sports on the varsity level before dropping baseball this past spring.
Although he averaged 13.3 points and 10.3 rebounds a game last year on Burt Helmer’s 14-10 basketball squad, Phillips understands that football is his bread and butter. In a game of high-speed collisions the honorable mention Class 4A all-state honoree is one of the best.
"I like to think that I can’t be stopped," Phillips said. "But I know someone out there can stop me (at the FBS level). If he (opposing player) is big I’ll blow right by him. If he is a little smaller, then I’ll just bowl him over. I love to go out, suit up and hit people. The football field is the one place that I can hit someone and be in the right in doing so."
"If he comes ready to play, it’ll take three people to stop him,” LaMunyon said.
Phillips, who has been clocked at 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash, was in on 41 tackles a year ago, including 28 solo stops for Circle. He also batted down six passes, recovered two fumbles and forced another.
Offensively, Phillips caught 15 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns as a tight end. He carried the ball five times for 32 yards.
Described as a playmaker by LaMunyon, Phillips has earned the praise of coaches outside the Thunderbird circle. While he respects the playmaking abilities of Phillips, Andale coach Gary O’Hair has had his fill of the soon-to-be Big 12 defender.
Circle has struggled against the Indians, who won back-to-back Class 4A titles in 2006 and 2007. Phillips, however, hasn’t struggled against O’Hair.
"He always seems to have a great game against us," O’Hair said of Phillips. "I don’t know what it is. He has great instincts and he reacts so well to the ball. He plays from sideline to sideline. You’re not going to find another high school player with that size that moves that well.
"He just destroys whoever is blocking him, finds the ball and gets to it."
Although Phillips will more than likely play on the outside in college, LaMunyon prefers to put him in the middle for Circle games, allowing Phillips to roam wherever he sees fit.
"They put him in the middle because that is where he is most effective for them," O’Hair said. "He doesn’t just clog things up there, he is able to roam the entire field and make plays. We pretty much have to put two guys on him unless we can mix in some misdirection and get him going in the wrong direction."
Now that he has put the recruiting process behind him, Phillips is ready to steer his eyes toward the upcoming high school season. Relieved of the stress that often comes with the recruiting process, Phillips would like nothing more than to liberate Thunderbird fans from five-straight losing seasons.
If the current trend of increased wins with each new season continues Phillips and company will deliver the school’s first winning season since Circle finished 5-4 in 2004. With Phillips calling Circle District Stadium home, the Thunderbirds are 7-20, including 4-5 a season ago.
"I think it’s very important to do well," Phillips said. "I want to show (people) that I can do it. It’s important for me to make a name for myself. I want everyone to remember me."