During his redshirt freshman season in 2003, Phillips logged 18 carries and 65 yards through the season's first nine games. On a team with Quincy Wilson, Kay-Jay Harris and Rasheed Marshall, it was difficult for Phillips to get his hands on the ball and prove his worth.
That was the least of the problems in store for the talented Ohioan, however. Phillips injured his left knee as West Virginia prepared to face Pittsburgh in mid-November, 2003, and has yet to return to full speed. It is one of football's most serious injuries, and it left the back wondering when he would ever get the opportunity to take the baton and be the next great Mountaineer back.
Fast forward to April 1, 2005. It's a dreary day at Milan Puskar Stadium, but the short, stocky Phillips is having the time of his life. The agility, the strength and the speed have yet to completely return, but he is still beating the WVU defense on the outside for significant yardage during practice.
Phillips has survived a trio of knee surgeries to repair his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. He's rehabbed vigorously for 15 months just to return for an otherwise ordinary spring practice.
"It feels great. The best feeling is feeling a part of the team again," Phillips said. "That's probably No. 1. I just thank God for Him giving me the opportunity to come out here again. I've been waiting for this, its finally come. It's been a long road. I'm feeling good right now."
After this practice, however, Phillips looks exhausted. There was only light contact involved, but Phillips is still conditioning his body and his knee in order to take the pounding of football.
"I think I have a ways to go as far as strength and getting back into a groove," Phillips said. "The longer I'm on it, the more it begins to break down. I have to get used to being on it for two or three hours."
Head coach Rich Rodriguez said he was pleased with Phillips' recovery, but said the real test comes in the following days.
"It's been a while since he's suited up," Rodriguez said. "He has to get to the point where he can be out there on back-to-back days."
Phillips, who labeled himself at 85 percent, knows the long road to recovery isn't over.
"I've still got a ways to go. I felt kind of sloppy. I'm not as alert as I used to be," he said. "But I feel like with hard work and if I continue to do what I'm doing, then it'll come back."
Along with the daily rigors of rehabilitation, Phillips also finds West Virginia's stable of backs as talented and deep as ever.
"We've got great backs," he said. "Jason Colson is a great back and he's very comfortable in the offense. We've got Pernell (Williams) and Jason (Gwaltney) coming in. I definitely want to get in the mix."
Although an injury of this magnitude can hamper a player for an extended period, Rodriguez noted that Phillips' passion and hunger can be elevated as he returns.
He will need a little of everything as he tries to pick up where he left off. It's been a difficult journey, but the junior is simply happy to have his hands on the ball once again.
"The hardest thing was coming out here and watching my players. The games, the practices, I couldn't participate," Phillps said. "I feel like God is finally letting me go out there."
Friday was the seventh practice this spring as the team prepares for its first full-scale scrimmage Saturday. The scrimmage is scheduled to get underway at 12:30 p.m., weather permitting.
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Friday's practice was devoid of spectacular plays, but for the second consecutive practice, Rayshawn Bolden continued to impress. He's clearly the most polished receiver on a very-thin corps, and has turned into a legitimate deep threat.
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Junior college transfer Louis Davis is a sight to behold. The 6-foot-6, 290-lb. native of Compton, Calif., is a physical specimen, and gives West Virginia essentially six offensive linemen. Davis was teremd "a road grader" by none other than Greg Hunter, and has steamrolled a number of defenders during running drills.
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The aforementioned Colson has added 10 to 15 lbs. to his 6-foot-1 frame. The junior entered WVU at 185 pounds, but is eaisly pushing the 200 mark. His upper body is noticeable bigger from last season.
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According to WVU's record board inside the Puskar Center, wide receiver Brandon Myles and defensive back Dee McCann are currently the fastest Mountaineers, clocking in at 4.38 in the 40-yard dash. Quarterback Dwayne Thompson, who is quickly emerging as a favorite for the starting job this fall, was timed at 4.40.