Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Mississippi State football player Josiah Phillips: "I had the best dad in the world."

Mississippi State walk-on redshirt sophomore linebacker Josiah Phillips was likely destined to play college football at Mississippi State partly due to his dad Randy Phillips.

Josiah was born into a family that had helped make a major impression in the college football world 14+ years prior to his birth. His dad, Randy Phillips, was the Mississippi State assistant strength coach on the 1980 team that defeated No. 1 ranked Alabama, a team that had a 28-game winning streak going into their game against Mississippi State.

Legendary Alabama head coach Bear Bryant came away impressed with what he saw from the Mississippi State football team that day.

"Coach Bryant came in and complimented the team after the game," said Josiah, who had been told about the game by his dad.

But the MSU players weren't the only ones that impressed the Bear.

"Later (Bear Bryant) said something like it must be their strength program because they really fought hard," said Josiah.

Bryant, always trying to find an edge to help him win games, began the process of improving his strength program.

"He hired Al Miller as his head strength coach (in 1982)," said Phillips. Miller had left Mississippi State after the 1980 season to become the head strength coach at Northeast Louisiana before being hired by Alabama.

Miller immediately reached out to Randy Phillips to see if he would be interested in joining him at Alabama.

"Al asked my dad to come with him but he said no," said Josiah. "That was the last thing that I knew about that."

Josiah heard the rest of the story from a friend of his dad's after his dad had passed away.

"Later, after my dad died, an old friend of his told us something that dad hadn't told us," said Josiah. "He said Bear Bryant had called our dad on the phone after he had turned Al down and told him he wanted to hire him but dad very politely told him that he didn't want to."

Turning down Bear Bryant is something not many in the college football world would do but Randy Phillips had a greater calling.

"He had had football as his idol his entire life but he now wanted to serve the Lord," said Josiah.

Randy Phillips began sharing the Word, although not on a fulltime basis. He and his wife Maureen had three children to take care of so he took the first of several jobs to help pay their bills.

"He was hired as a teacher at a school in Columbus (Mississippi)," said Josiah. "He worked there for a few years then was hired as the principal at Hebron Christian School (in Pheba, MS). He was there for a number of years. After the principal job he had small jobs, painting and other jobs. But during that time he was always sharing the Word."

Randy decided to take a leap of faith and started preaching fulltime.

"He finally starting doing fulltime ministry but didn't charge a dime," said Josiah. "He would walk up to people on campus, mainly students, and strike up a conversation and preach the Word to them. He would bring a lot of those guys home with him. He wouldn't just preach to them but also, in a way, make them a part of our family. They ate supper with us and they would help us work in the yard, garden or barnyard."

Although he wasn't charging for his ministry, Randy and his family were being taken care.

"The Lord took care of us," said Josiah. "Dad said he was acting on faith and if he was going to provide the Lord would provide. He said we would always have what we needed but maybe not what we wanted. We didn't live in poverty. We had a nice, pretty little house, and dad drove a little beat up pickup. And the guy who discipled dad let him live on his land for cheap rent."

Josiah recounted a couple of examples of how they survived financially.

"One time, they didn't have a lot of food and didn't have any money because they had just paid their hospital bill due to having a baby so they weren't going to be able to eat breakfast," said Josiah. "But a neighbor came by and brought them food.

"I also remember one time we were going to go visit our grandparents who lived in North Carolina. We had the van packed but we didn't have any money. Dad said if we don't have the money by tomorrow, then we aren't going. But that same day we received an envelop in the mail anonymously with money in it. In the envelop it said something about Philippians 4:19, which said 'And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.' So, we had money to go on the trip. Those kind of things happened more than once."

As Randy continued to preach, more good things continued to happen for he and his family.

"My mom and dad eventually got a deal on 40 acres of land and built a two-story house on it," said Josiah. "We built some of it ourselves but my older brothers Jesse and Jonathan (both of whom were in the military at the time) helped a lot with building the house. It was almost like God had rewarded my dad for his faith."

Josiah's dad wasn't the only one being rewarded.

"I had always wanted to play (high school) football but only played eight-man flag football because I was home schooled, and, at the time, the laws wouldn't allow you to play football for a high school if you didn't attend the high school," said Josiah.

After Josiah graduated, his dad approached Mississippi State about a possible walk-on spot for his son. And Mississippi State came through.

"I received an offer (to walk-on) during the summer of 2013," said Josiah. "(Then Mississippi State offensive coordinator Les) Koenning and my dad talked for something like 30 minutes. Dad told him our whole story and Coach Koenning, the entire time, was shaking his head. They ended up giving me a spot on the 105-man roster."

Josiah's college goal was to play for Mississippi State, mainly due to his family.

"I wanted to go to Mississippi State because I had family go here," said Josiah, whose mother and brother had both played athletics at State. "I could have tried going to smaller schools but it is family first for me. Football was important but family is more important. For me, it is God, family, country and football."

While Josiah's life was on the upswing, his dad was battling terminal cancer. Despite dealing with the cancer, Randy was doing everything he could to prepare his son for the rigors of college football.

"He was dying of cancer at the time but we went to the Manning Quarterback Camp in Louisiana," said Josiah. "During that trip, he told me that he appreciated the man that I had become. We had the best time together on that trip. That was the last time we went on the road together.

"He and I would also work out every morning at the Sanderson Building (at Mississippi State) getting me ready for football."

But Josiah's dad continued to worsen. Knowing he didn't have long to live, Randy asked one of his older sons to help Josiah train.

"As dad got worse and worse, he told my brother Jesse, who is a Marine, that he wanted him to help train me," said Josiah.

But realizes his dad didn't have long to live, Josiah wasn't sure if attending college was the right thing for him to do.

"I talked to dad then and asked him if he still wanted me to go to college if he died," said Josiah. "I told him I wouldn't, that I would stay and help take care of the family. He told me that he wanted me to go to school and play football."

Randy passed away not long after. And Josiah's determination to succeed in football grew.

"After dad died, I was doing the workouts that he had for me," said Josiah. "One of the workouts was flipping a tire 200 yards. During the middle of December, I was flipping tires for 200 yards then running down a creek that was about waist high for about half a mile, then come back and do it again a couple of times."

Knowing that their father wanted Josiah to attend college and play football, the rest of the family stepped in to make sure that happened.

"Jonathan pays for my school and Joanne and Jorja wake up every morning and take turns fixing my breakfast," said Josiah. "And Joy, my older sister, always fixes me coffee. And my mom has always been there for me. The first year was tough because you are trying to get all the school work done and meet the demands of a new world that I have stepped into, football. There were times I would come home overwhelmed and she would give me a hug and tell me that it was going to be ok. She didn't worry about her pain (of losing a husband). She looked at this little college kid and always kept me focused spiritually."

Because Josiah didn't play high school football, everything about football was new to him.

"I came to Mississippi State as a quarterback and didn't know any of the lingo," said Josiah. "I didn't know what the C and A gaps were. I knew nothing. Coach (Brian) Johnson, who was the new quarterback coach, taught me the lingo; really taught me everything. And I worked hard to learn the playbook."

Josiah eventually was moved to linebacker, the position that he currently plays.

"During the year I was playing scout quarterback they needed a scout tight end so I ended up playing scout tight end," said Josiah. "Then, during the spring of 2015, I was moved to linebacker and have stayed there ever since."

But Josiah has higher goals than being a scout team member his entire career.

"My goal is to start on special teams and I can do it but I have to convince the coaches that I can," he said. "I also want a role somewhere on defense. Even it if is just five plays a game, I will start there. I didn't come here to just put on a uniform. I came here to play football and I am going to figure out how to do that."

And for being able to live his dream of going to college and playing college football, Josiah knows who to thank for that gift.

"Every scrimmage, every camp, every game, anything that is a big deal in my life, I go to my dad's grave and think about everything," he said. "I don't talk to him because he is not there; he is with the Lord now. But I do talk to the Lord. The Lord says remember what he has done for us. I go there so I can thank the Lord for the things that have gotten me to where I am now, my health and for giving me the best dad in the world. I thank him for the man that I had over me. I see guys here who don't have a dad and how it has affected them in a lot ways. Just for having a dad for 18 years, I couldn't ask for anything else in life. That has given me so much because I had a man who loved me and gave me confidence."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network.

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