(Josiah Phillips) Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Star Starter Shares Bond With Walk-On Linebacker Comrade

Sure the head coach and position coach enjoyed it. So were the other position-peers. But when Kelan Chairs and Josiah Phillips were announced as the newest scholarship Bulldogs, one teammate in particular could take pride.

“It’s awesome,” Richie Brown said. “That makes three linebackers I’ve gotten scholarships as walk-ons!”

Alright. There’s more than a little of Brown’s tongue tucked into a cheek there. The ranking linebacker claims no credit for getting Chairs, Phillips, and before them DeAndre Ward their athletic grants.

The pride for his freshly-scholarshiped comrades? That’s genuine. Especially so for his game-weekend roommate Phillips. This, Brown said, was culmination of a career goal.

“We’ve been talking, praying about that for a long time. To see him keep honoring the Lord, and the Lord provided. We knew He would, it was just His timing. And I’m so proud of Josiah.”

Now, measured purely by football facts, there is not too many direct comparisons ‘tween the two.

Brown was a multi-star prospect out of high school, center of a down-to-Signing Day recruiting battle won by Mississippi State. He worked the cycle from redshirt to special teamer and reserve, then backup and practically alternate to current NFL linebacker Benardrick McKinney. And finally, a full-season starter as a junior and now preseason All-SEC selection. As well as a pro prospect in his own right, of course, and a married man to boot.

Then there is Phillips. Recruited? Not a bit, simply because he only played eight-man football growing up. There wasn’t even an alma mater as he was home-schooled. Exposure to college football consisted of his older brother, John, who’d walked-on at Mississippi State a few years earlier and impressed Dan Mullen in the process.

In fact, without that family example, the head coach might not have considered someone with no normal football experience at any level. At least Ward and Chairs had that to call upon as they volunteered for and ultimately made the roster. Oh, and one more thing: Phillips was walking-on as a…quarterback. That takes brass for someone who’d never read a real 11-man defense at any level!

As is known by now, after some scout team quarterback work for a year Phillips was moved briefly to tight end. Then after just two months, new coordinator Manny Diaz switched him to linebacker. It was the best move for everyone, not least Brown.

“I didn’t know him much as a quarterback because our schedules were so different.” Once in a defensive practice jersey, it didn’t take long for a bond to form. Not just on the field or meeting room, either.

“I saw what we had in common and our beliefs,” Brown said. “Our friendship took off.”

And has stuck between the starter and star and a guy happy to wear a Mississippi State uniform…and now thrilled to have a scholarship entirely the equal of Brown’s. Not that Brown ever felt any sort of superiority in any aspect.

“We’ve roomed together for two years now, I’m sure we’ll room together this season too. So we get some pretty deep talks, we share our faith. He would get discouraged and be honest with me, I’d tell him things he knows but needs to be reassured of. Things my mentors would tell me, too.”

The story is already encouraging. It can get better too, because Phillips has his chances for some real action this season. He played in just one 2015 game, but in it he made an official tackle. Chairs has seen a little more duty, lettering as a reserve middle linebacker. And Ward of course has gotten more snaps than either over his two varsity years.

Should Phillips be waved onto the field at a linebacker spot this fall, he’ll have a bearded cheerleader on the sideline. It’s also safe to predict that Mississippi State’s p.r. team will be presenting Phillip’s special story to network partners.

“He’s an awesome guy, a great hard worker,” Brown said. “And he receives advice and critique better than anybody I’ve ever met. He’s awesome at taking a yelling-at! And he likes it, he really enjoys being corrected whatever tone it is.

“He’s got a great testimony, I love his family. I’ve gotten really close with their family and know how much credit he would give to his family and his dad. Obviously he says I’ve helped him, but he’s really helped me a lot too. He’s been an inspiration to me to work hard.”

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