Jordan Phillips keeps eyes on goal

Sooners defensive tackle bounces back, battles through barriers to reach NFL

Back-pedaling through blocking pads two weeks ago at Oklahoma’s Pro-Day, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips’ left heel clipped one as it lay on the ground.

He stumbled and fell backward landing on the ground, his feet sticking up in the air.

Phillips, widely considered to be a potential first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, popped quickly to his feet and continued through the drill – exploding through the final few steps like he hadn’t fallen in the first place.

Much of Phillips’ life has led up to these past few days, and it’s lessons of his youth that have helped him pick himself up and have put in a position to be drafted in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft as one of the top defensive tackles in the nation.

“I’ve been doing this since I was a baby,” Phillips said. “Now, I’m just out here doing what I do for money.”

Phillips was born in Towanda, Kansas – an extended suburb of Wichita just off I-35. The five-star high school prospect grew up in a town of less than 2,000 people where he came from what he called “a rough background.”

Stuck behind a group of veterans like JaMarkus McFarland, Casey Walker and Stacy McGee through his first two seasons, Phillips toiled a bit. After redshirting his first year, he played in 11 games as a sophomore but seemed to fall short of expectations as the 25th-best overall player in the 2010 recruiting class.

His redshirt sophomore season – and third year on the Oklahoma campus – was supposed to be his chance to breakout. He had a new coach – former Sooners defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery – who understood exactly who Phillips was at the time. He was set to be the team’s starter, alongside returner Chuka Ndulue.

But a back injury ended his season after just four games.

A medical redshirt gave him a second crack at a redshirt sophomore year, and this time, it was his best as Phillips set his eyes on his childhood goal of making the NFL.

“It was time for me to come into my own and take over,” said Phillips, who recorded seven tackles for loss and two sacks this year. “That’s what I did.”

This season, Phillips was a beast. He was disruptive at the line and in the opposing backfield almost immediately. Still, the naysayers stuck around – insisting that his motor wasn’t where it needed to be.

Phillips set out Wednesday to prove that his respectable numbers at the combine weren’t a fluke.

At 6-foot-5 and 327 pounds, there aren’t many players as big or agile as Phillips. He didn’t participate in any of the combine drills but did workout during position-specific drills, knocking blocking dummies off their base during designed pass-rush simulations.

There were a few hiccups, but Phillips has a year of film and a performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, which included a 5.17 40-yard dash and 28 reps on the 225-pound bench press.

Phillips said that a close-knit group helped keep him out of trouble as he grew up and that same group suggested that he not “be in the news.”

They advised him to “do what he did to get here.”

Phillips will no doubt remember how he got here, just weeks away from realizing a dream that he always believed he would achieve – if he didn’t go to the NBA first, his only other childhood goal.

He has always picked himself up when knocked down, fought through depth-chart barriers and bounced back from a back injury.

Wednesday, surrounded by his teammates once more and possibly for the last time, Phillips found himself staring up at the gray rafters of the Everest Training Center. He said afterwards falling down during his workout could have been a good thing or a bad thing.

Stay down and it would have hurt him in the eyes of the gathered scouts. That’s not what he did. That’s not what he’s done. He got right back up.

“It shows I’m not going to quit, even if I mess up,” Phillips said.

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