SIGNEE SPOTLIGHT: Phillips Starts Prepping For UF

The position where the Florida Gators have the least experience is the one that might prove to be the most critical in the 2005 season. The only scholarship placekicker in the fall will be a true freshman, Jonathon Phillips, from Palm Beach Central in Wellington, who is stepping up his daily workout regimen in expectation that he'll be called on often to put points on the board for the Gators.

At 5-11 and 205 pounds Phillips is a big kicker with a strong leg. He has kicked field goals from 67 yards although right now he contends he has to shake off some rust to get that far. His kicking coach is Mike McCabe of Ft. Lauderdale who will be on hand in Gainesville in June to coach the kickers at the Gators summer camp.

It's not just kicking that has Phillips occupied these days. He's also been introduced to the summer conditioning program that Coach Mike Marotti has sent to all the incoming players. He reports to Gainesville with the other incoming freshmen, June 20. When Gator Country caught up with Phillips in Wellington Thursday morning, he was working out under the watchful eye of his dad, Gary. He's finished with school. Good grades and good class attendance set him free the final ten days of the school year.

"I am trying to stick to the schedule that the coaches sent me," Phillips said. "I pretty much want to do everything so that I feel prepared when I get there. I don't want anyone to be disappointed. Coach called me and said there is a specific workout for me, different from most, because I am a kicker. There's all kinds of running that I have been doing every day. There is conditioning, running two miles and the mile and certain times I have to make. Then there is the sprinting, speed work, agilities and plyometrics."

He plans to be ready to handle the competition of three walkons for the placekicking job and he's quite ready to experience college life in Gainesville. At this point, it's safe to say that the anticipation rises on a daily basis.

"I am just excited with the opportunity for the education and the football," he said. "There really is no place I would rather be. I am thinking about majoring in engineering if it isn't too hard. Mechanical engineering, electronic or computer engineering, I am not sure. When I get up there, there is a class I can take called introduction to engineering so that can help me decide."

Although he's ready to get going, there is that element of apprehension since he'll be leaving the familiar surroundings of South Florida for the more tranquil lifestyle of North Florida and a busy campus with students from all over the world.

"I'm not sure," he said about what to expect. "Right now, I feel like I am walking in the dark but I will figure it out when I get there. They put all the football players in The Springs (dormitory) for the first year. A lot of kids from school (Wellington) will be going there (UF), so I will have lots of friends outside of football."

Phillips has experienced game day in Gainesville as a spectator but he's eager to see what it's like as part of the big show.

"I went to the spring game and checked that out," he said. "It was amazing. There will be big crowds at the games so I have to be prepared for that, too. I also went to the LSU game. It was a big and another amazing crowd."

Because he shares the same kicking coach (McCabe) with Gator punter Eric Wilbur, he is already learning some of the do's and don'ts of Florida football Urban Meyer style as well as getting a handle on what to expect in Gainesville and on the Florida campus.

"I talk to Eric Wilbur a lot because he has the same kicking coach that I have," Phillips said. "Eric is good at everything. He has just been punting but I have a feeling he will be the main competition for kickoffs. He can kick the ball through the uprights if he wants to."

Phillips is looking forward to all of the competition at the field goal and kick off positions. He is aware that the coaching staff expects him to compete for and win both jobs.

"They told me I have a good chance at the starting job (kickoffs and field goals)," he said. "I could mess up, but they are expecting me not to."

Because it's been six months since his high school football season and he's had no spring football this year, he's a bit rusty but he's stretching his legs and trying to strengthen them in preparation for fall football at UF. He isn't quite able to nail the ball through the uprights on kick-offs, but he feels that's just a matter of time.

"I have taken a little time off and used to be able to [kick through the uprights]," he said. "I am working back into it. It won't take too much longer, I am getting pretty close. You take a little time off and everything just shortens up. That is why I am not kicking it quite as far right now. I pretty much practice year-round, but usually take a few weeks to a month off. Then it takes a little while to get back into it."

Since he only kicked one field goal during his senior year at Wellington, there is a certain anxiety among recruiting buffs about his ability. There was a reason for the low number and he tried to be gracious as he explained.

"A lot of people like to point that out," Phillips said. "Of course, it is always the kicker's fault but at the same time I could have used a little more help from people coming on to the field. Our field goal unit was not very good. I would go out on the field and there would be eight people there. Everyone would just come right through and the guy holding the ball would get tackled and we would never get a chance to get it off. I got hit four or five times during the year. All the special teams were very unorganized. It was killing me because in my junior year I hit seven field goals and only one as a senior. High school football was still fun though."

Kickers are a rare breed. Often times in practice they are off in their own world, doing what kickers do, whatever that may be. That is why often times I ask them, when did you become a kicker? Phillips has an easy answer for that.

"I went out for freshman football and was playing fullback for a game," he said. "Then they needed a kicker for kickoffs. In high school, when you hit the ball in the end zone it's a touchback. I don't know how I did it, but somehow I snuck one in there (the end zone). So, they moved me up to J.V., and that was the end of playing anything else. When we played Belle Glade my freshman year, that was my best game ever. It is sort of sad, because that was my freshman year. I had three field goals and a long of 45 yards that night. It was the first time we ever beat Bell Glade. After that year I got moved to varsity."

So there you have it Gator fans. What the staff and fans hope is that in four years, we'll be hearing stories about how Florida's all-time leading kick-scorer got his start because as a high school freshman he got lucky and kicked a ball 65 yards.

Just because he will be Florida's only scholarship placekicker, he knows that the job won't be handed to him. He will have to earn his position just like everyone else. Although the walkons had some problems in the spring game, Phillips knows they will be formidable competitors and no one will be conceding anything to anyone.

"Just because they are walk-ons doesn't mean they aren't as good as me," he said. "I am sure there is someone as good as me. I just have to concentrate on what I am doing."

In Urban Meyer's first year as Florida's football coach, Jonathan Phillips just might be the very first Gator player to touch the ball on the opening kickoff. If he wins the field goal and extra point kicking duties, then he will have a chance to lead the Gators in scoring. He'll have to do his kicking, however, without his lucky shirt.

"I used to be superstitious and wear the same undershirt every game, but I lost it for the last two games and I am done with that," he said. "It got pretty bad. I washed it but it started to smell bad anyway."

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