Ervin Philips was not one of the headliners of Syracuse’s 2014 class. Rated as only a two-star prospect coming out of high school, Philips is used to being doubted. The freshman running back has used that to fuel his energy and motivation on the filed.
Now, Philips could be one of the freshmen who make an impact on the upcoming season.
”Every time I get out there, I know I was underrated,” Philips said. “From high school and now in college. I was always like that. Now it just motivates me even more to go out there and prove people wrong.
”I want to be a big playmaker. I know I’m not going to get many reps if I do get onto the field. But when I do I want to make plays and make the best out of how many times I do touch the ball.”
Philips has earned the praise of head coach Scott Shafer multiple times throughout training camp. But going from underrated to receiving praise from his coach has not caused the freshman to become complacent.
”It humbles me,” Philips said. “It makes me want to work even harder. If I’m impressing him, I just want to keep doing what I’m supposed to do. Keep making plays and working hard.”
So Philips continues to work learning the offense and working to carve out a role on the 2014 Syracuse Orange. Even while being a newcomer in an offense full of veterans and playing at one of the deeper positions on the roster, it didn’t take long for Philips to know he belonged at the highest level of college football.
”Yeah right off the bat,” he said. “Right off the bat. Just playing a few snaps and running with the ball. Seeing how it played out. I knew I could play at this level, but it’s definitely harder and a big step up from high school.”
Even while he had confidence he belonged right away, there was still a period of acclamation to the level of play.
”It took a little while to adjust to the game because it’s harder, faster,” Philips said. “But everything is going well. The biggest adjustment has been the physicality and the game speed I think. I have to learn to pin my shoulder down more because I’m a smaller guy. Just learn how to take hits better because I haven’t been doing that real well.”
Philips has worked at running back throughout training camp, but is working on becoming a versatile threat as well.
”I’ve been working on my catching ability,” Philips said. “I want to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield and make some plays. Just getting out in open space and making things happen.
”I’ve (also) gotten a few reps (as a returner). As far as kick return, I’m behind Tyson Gulley at the two. I’ve got a couple good reps in. I’ve been working through it. I like special teams actually. Especially kick returns. I think I can be a good kick returner and help the team.”
Philips has received a lot of positive feedback from the Syracuse coaches throughout camp.
”They like the way I play,” Philips said. “They like my speed and shiftiness to avoid tackles. They don’t know what they want to do with me yet. I just have to keep working hard and however it plays out, it plays out. But they do want me to catch the ball out of the backfield a little bit and get the ball in space.”
It is uncommon for a freshman to pick up the playbook quickly and become comfortable within the system. But Philips has had a secret weapon, or weapons. A group of veteran running backs who have helped minimize the learning curve.
”I couldn’t pick out one,” Philips said. “They’ve all been helping me so much. They just teach me the game and show me little hints to help me out. But they’ve mainly all been teaching me that everything is mental. If I can stay mentally strong then I’ll be OK.”
On a lighter note, Philips offered an anecdote about walk-on center Donnie Foster.
”Usually, offensive linemen, they’re big slipper guys,” Philips said. “You think they’re going to be sloppy. But Donnie is a clean dude. He’s always keeping things clean. He’s one of the cleanest dudes I know. He’s a little bit of a neat freak. He’s a great guy. I love Donnie.”