MIAMI -- The inscription is on his right arm. The message is quite simple, if not powerful.God Bless The Game.
It took 30 minutes for the tattoo artist to burn the outline of a football into his skin, with those words surrounding it. Safety Kenny Phillips wanted a permanent reminder of that special season in 2003 when the Carol City High Chiefs won the Class 6A state championship game."God blessed me with the ability to play this game," he said recently, sitting in the office of Carol City basketball Coach Barry Robinson. "I love it, especially the contact part."
Phillips -- a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder -- had 84 tackles, seven interceptions, three fumble recoveries, four defensive touchdowns and three punt returns for scores this season.
But perhaps his most significant statistic is 3.8. That's his grade-point average.
And did we mention the 1,020 score on his SAT?
He is the player of the year on the Orlando Sentinel's 86th annual All-Southern Football Team, which is announced today.
Phillips' on-field numbers would have been better had he seen the ball more. Opponents passed to the other side of Carol City's Cover 2 zone -- where a safety is responsible for his deep half of the field -- 75 percent of the time.
Phillips also connects as a special talent on another level, this one intangible. He has a likable presence, engaging smile and self-deprecating personality.
Sitting in the office on a recent evening, Phillips grimaces while his basketball teammates are running sprints -- the toll demanded by Robinson after a loss the previous night.
"It's crazy out there," Phillips says, smiling.
While he plays basketball as a leisurely hobby of sorts, Phillips is all about football.
Trophies and awards keep piling up. He is the consensus best player in the state, documented by his Gatorade Thirst Quencher 2004 Florida Football Player of Year Award. There are stacks of recruiting letters, which essentially mean he can go anywhere he wants. Phillips says he likely won't make a decision until the night before signing day in February.
It will make for high anxiety among the three schools -- he has said he will choose from among Florida State, Miami and Tennessee -- that are the finalists for his attention.
Every school recruiting Phillips expects him to emerge as a big-impact defensive player. At Carol City, he has shown a remarkable sixth sense reacting to plays.
The talent is inherent. Phillips doesn't quite know where it comes from. His grandfather on his mother's side played quarterback for FAMU. His uncle played high school basketball. His father played some sports while in high school.
But maybe it's best to strop trying to do the genetic math and appreciate Phillips for who he is.
"He's a student of the game, athletic, and he's almost too good to be true," Carol City Coach Walt Frazier said. "He's a team player, a leader, and he knows the defensive philosophy of our team. He's been at it since a sophomore. He just took over."
But Phillips doesn't think he did enough this season. Carol City was eliminated in the state semifinals by eventual champion Miami Killian, and the sting has yet to wear off.
"Coach was always talking about senior leadership," Phillips said. "I was the captain and we lost, so I put it on me. It's my fault. Maybe if I would have said something to this person, got him more motivated."
Whatever accountability issues Phillips pins on himself, there are absolutely no repercussions from recruiters. Randy Shannon, Miami's defensive coordinator, regularly sends handwritten letters. There is a constant barrage of phone calls and contacts under the allotted NCAA rules of engagements. There are other demands on his time as well, coming from recruiting analysts who get his home phone number through various means.
"These [recruiting] magazines are what's killing me," Phillips said. "I have no idea who most of these people are."
Given a choice, Phillips would prefer to spend his time watching TV, a guilty pleasure he allows himself after doing his homework in the afternoon. He loves to watch the UPN sitcom One on One. He doesn't get out much (he doesn't have a girlfriend), and the homebody persona draws good-natured heckling from friends.
He isn't much into the hero worship thing, either. There are no posters on his bedroom wall. He allows himself one on his locker, that of former UM star and current Washington Redskins free safety Sean Taylor, for motivational purposes.
Joining Taylor in the NFL would be nice some day, but Phillips has bigger-picture plans. The college degree is hugely important to him; he wants to study business management and eventually start his own business.
"Probably a barber shop," he said. "Everybody needs a haircut."
The grounded perspective has much to do with the stabilizing influence of his parents, Kenneth and Taranda.
She is a mail carrier, going on her 12th year on the job. Her husband has been a Metro-Dade bus driver for 12 years. They have managed to work around their schedules since Kenny was 9 years old and pleading with them to let him play ball. They eventually signed him up for a team in the Scott Lake Optimist League.
"We juggle a lot, but we made it work," Taranda Phillips said.
They haven't missed a game this season, and will travel with Kenny when he plays in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl high school all-star game in San Antonio on Jan. 15.
She is flabbergasted with the all attention Kenny is getting, though she does her best to keep herself -- and Kenny -- in check.
"I want you to be happy where you are, but I want you to remember if you are bull-headed and rude to people, you're not going to have anybody when things go bad," she reminds him repeatedly. "Football is not a one-man show."
Perhaps not, but her son is the special kind of player who can make a huge difference.
The proof is in the incessant ring-ring-ring of the phone in the house.
"It's crazy," Phillips said. "I'll be getting a haircut and people will be looking at me funny. I'm like, `What's wrong with them?'"
Then they ask the question: "What school?"
"I joke with them sometimes," Phillips said. "I tell them I'm going to Miami-Dade [Community College] on a full scholarship."
Kenneth Phillips is leaning toward playing for Florida State, Miami or Tennessee. `He's a student of the game, athletic, and he's almost too good to be true,' says his high school football coach, Walt Frazier.
ALABAMAJAROD BRYANTAth, Hoover
ARKANSASDARREN MCFADDENRB, Pulaski Oak Grove
FLORIDAKENNETH PHILLIPSS, Miami Carol City
GEORGIATRAY BLACKMONLB, LaGrange
KENTUCKYCURTIS PULLEYQB, Hopkinsville
LOUISIANARYAN PERRILLOUXQB, Reserve East St. John
MISSISSIPPIJIMMY JOHNSQB, Brookhaven
NORTH CAROLINAJOE COXQB, Charlotte Independence
SOUTH CAROLINAC.J. BYRDAth, North Augusta
TENNESSEEPATRICK TURNERWR, Nashville Goodpasture
TEXASCHASE DANIELQB, South Lake Carroll
VIRGINIAVICTOR HARRISAth, Roanoke Highland Spgs
ALL-SOUTHERN HISTORYThe All-Southern Football Team is now 86 years old, and celebrating its 53rd birthday in Orlando. Created in 1919 by John "Red" Davis in the Lake City Reporter, the team followed Davis to Orlando when he went to work for the Orlando Morning Sentinel, now the Orlando Sentinel.
When Davis left the Sentinel in 1945, publisher Martin Andersen paid Davis a royalty to keep the team at the paper. Davis helped Orlando newsman Charlie Wadsworth select the best high school football players from 12 states for another year before relinquishing it to a string of Sentinel sports editors.
Representatives from the 12 states now assist Sentinel sports reporter Bill Buchalter in selecting the best of the high school players.
OUR SELECTION PANEL
Bill Buchalter, Orlando Sentinel
Bill Bumgarner, New Orleans Times-Picayune
Buddy Collings, Orlando Sentinel
Jody Demling, Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal
Doug Huff, national prep consultant, Morgantown, W.Va.
Jamie Newberg, national recruiting analyst, Scout.com, Atlanta
Bill Spencer, Jackson (Miss.) Clarion Ledger
Norm Wood, Newport News (Va.) Daily Press
Michael Wright, Newport News (Va.) Daily Press
Robert Yates, Arkansas Democrat Gazette
ALL-SOUTHERN TEAMOUR SELECTIONSThe 86th All-Southern football team, selected by the Orlando Sentinel's panel of experts, is a compilation of the best players in 12 Southern states. Players are being recognized for their play on the field; thus, this is not necessarily a "top prospects" list. Production, not potential, is the key to the selection. Here are our choices, with our player of the year listed first in each state:
ALABAMA Ht. / Wt. High school College choice
ATH Jarod Bryant 5-11 / 185 Hoover Undecided
DL Bobby Greenwood 6-6 / 245 Prattville Alabama, Auburn, FSU, Vandy
LB Chris Keys 6-2 / 205 Stevenson North Jackson Committed to LSU
TE/DE Gabe McKenzie 6-4 / 220 Mobile Davidson Alabama, Auburn, Miami
TE Tommy Trott 6-5 / 245 Montgomery Trinity Alabama, Auburn, Miami, Ole Miss
ARKANSAS Ht. / Wt. High school College choice
RB Darren McFadden 6-2 / 200 Pulaski Oak Grove Committed to Arkansas
QB Kodi Burns 6-1 / 180 Fort Smith Northside Underclassman (sophomore)
OL Brad Gordon 6-0 / 255 Little Rock Central Central Arkansas, Harding (Ark.)
QB Mitch Mustain 6-3 / 195 Springdale Underclassman (junior)
ATH Kevin Thornton 6-1 / 190 Little Rock Central Arkansas, Memphis, SCarolina, Tulsa
FLORIDA Ht. / Wt. High school College choice
S Kenneth Phillips 6-2 / 200 Miami Carol City UF, FSU, Miami, NC State
DB Demetrice Morley 6-0 / 175 Miami Killian Committed to Tennessee
WR Fred Rouse 6-3 / 185 Tallahassee Lincoln Alabama, FSU, Miami, Okla, Texas
QB Tim Tebow 6-3 / 230 Ponte Vedra Nease Underclassman (junior)
RB Roy Upchurch 6-1 / 195 Tallahassee Godby Alabama, FSU
GEORGIA Ht. / Wt. High school College choice
LB Tray Blackmon 6-0 / 192 LaGrange Committed to Auburn
LB Darius Dewberry 6-4 / 218 Fort Valley Peach Co. Auburn, Clemson, UF, Georgia, LSU
ATH Matt Dunham 6-2 / 220 Columbus Pacelli Committed to FSU
DE Justin Mincey 6-4 / 245 Folkston Charlton Co. Committed to FSU
DL/OL Chris Scott 6-4 / 315 Lovejoy Georgia, LSU, Tennessee
KENTUCKY Ht. / Wt. High school College choice
QB Curtis Pulley 6-4 / 200 Hopkinsville Committed to Kentucky
LB Brandon Logan 6-1 / 210 Lexington Catholic Committed to Michigan
DE James McKinney 6-3 / 275 Louisville Central Clemson, L'ville, Michigan, Nebraska
QB Brandon Smith 6-1 / 190 Danville Boyle Co. Committed to Western Kentucky
RB Kelvin Turner 5-11 / 175 Danville Undecided
LOUISIANA Ht. / Wt. High school College choice
QB Ryan Perrilloux 6-2 / 207 Reserve East St. John Committed to Texas
DB Nick Harris 6-3 / 210 Alexandria LSU, UM, Michigan, Okla, TexA&M
RB Kendrick Perry 6-2 / 215 Amite UM, Ole Miss, TexA&M, Tulane, UCLA
DE Zach Schreiber 6-2 / 225 Shreveport Evangel Chr Committed to Alabama
RB Keiland Williams 6-0 / 210 Lafayette Northside Underclassman (junior)
MISSISSIPPI Ht. / Wt. High school College choice
QB Jimmy Johns 6-3 / 225 Brookhaven Alabama, Auburn, UF , Ole Miss
ATH Anthony Johnson 5-11 / 190 Jackson Provine Bama, Aub, Ole Miss, MissSt., SoMiss
ATH Derek Pegues 5-10 / 190 Batesville South Panola LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee
DT Jerrell Powe 6-3 / 335 Waynesboro Wayne Co. Aub, Ole Miss, Neb, OklaSt., TexA&M
LB Archie Sims 6-1 / 205 Laurel West Jones Aub, Memp, Ole Miss, MissSt, So Miss
N. CAROLINA Ht. / Wt. High school College choice
QB Joe Cox 6-1 / 200 Charlotte Independence Committed to Georgia
RB Toney Baker 5-11 / 215 Jamestown Ragsdale UNC, NC State, Tenn, Virginia, VaTech
QB Jon Crompton 6-4 / 200 Waynesville Tuscola Committed to Tennessee
WR Mo Massaquoi 6-2 / 190 Charlotte Independence Committed to Georgia
LB Derek Nicholson 6-0 / 225 Winst-Salem Mt. Tabor FSU, Miami, UNC, Va. Tech
S. CAROLINA Ht. / Wt. High school College choice
ATH C.J. Byrd 6-3 / 185 North Augusta Committed to Georgia
RB Michael Davis 5-10 / 205 Columbia Bama, Aub, Clem, UK, UNC, SC
WR Eric Huggins 6-3 / 190 Conway Committed to Oklahoma
DB Jamie Robinson 6-2 / 190 Rock Hill Northwestern Clemson, FSU, Va. Tech
WR Rendrick Taylor 6-1 / 200 Bennettsville Marlboro Committed to Clemson
TENNESSEE Ht. / Wt. High school College choice
WR Patrick Turner 6-5 / 210 Nashville Goodpasture UF, LSU, Miami, Tenn., USC
DL Jeff Cottam 6-8 / 240 Germantown Committed to Tennessee
OL Michael Oher 6-5 / 340 Memphis Briarcrest LSU, Memphis, Ole Miss, Tenn
ATH Dave Thomas 5-11 / 185 Murfreesboro Riverdale East Carolina, Mid Tenn, Va. Tech
TE Brandon Warren 6-3 / 240 Alcoa Underclassman (junior)
TEXAS Ht. / Wt. High school College choice
QB Chase Daniel 6-1 / 210 South Lake Carroll Committed to Missouri
TE Martellus Bennett 6-6 / 240 Alief Taylor Arizona, Miami, Oklahoma, Texas
TE DajLeon Farr 6-5 / 240 Galena Park N. Shore Committed to LSU
DT DeMarcus Granger 6-2 / 325 Dallas Kimball Arizona St., LSU, Okla, OklaSt., Texas
OT Reginald Youngblood 6-5 / 305 Houston Washington Committed to Miami
VIRGINIA Ht. / Wt. High school College choice
ATH Victor Harris 6-0 / 180 Roanoke Highland Spgs Committed to Virginia Tech
DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald 6-5 / 255 Richmond Hermitage Committed to Virginia
QB Vic Hall 5-10 / 175 Gretna Committed to Virginia
RB Elan Lewis 5-10 / 210 Hampton Phoebus Committed to Virginia Tech
LB Deveon Simmons 6-0 / 215 Va. Beach Landstown Committed to Virginia Tech
ALABAMA: WR Montez Billings, 6-3/190, Pelham (Auburn); DL Wes Brown, 6-4/252, Athens (Tennessee); DL Antonio Coleman, 6-2/220, Mobile Williamson (Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, West Virginia); QB Devin Goodwin, 6-4/210, Demopolis (Undecided); ATH Desmond Jennings, 6-2/180, Pinson Valley (Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Ole Miss, UAB); DB Jerraud Powers, 5-9/165, Decatur (Auburn).
ARKANSAS: RB Tim Childress, 5-7/168, Batesville (Undecided); RB Mickey Dean, 5-10/200, Little Rock Central (Arkansas, Memphis, Tulsa); WR/DB Stewart Franks, 6-2/190, Sr., Little Rock Central (Arkansas, Arkansas State); OL/DL Cord Gray, 6-0/285, Wynne (Arkansas); WR Aaron Langford, 6-1/196, Sr. Pulaski Academy (Arkansas State); ATH Wayne Wainwright, 6-5/195, Rison (Undecided).
FLORIDA: LB Spencer Adkins, 6-0/220, Sr., Naples (Miami); DB Avery Atkins, 5-11/180, Sr. Daytona Beach Mainland (Florida); RB Antone Smith, 5-8/185, Pahokee (Auburn, FSU, Miami, Tennessee); OL/DL Kendrick Stewart, 6-3/285, Sr. Lakeland (FSU, Iowa, Pitt, USF); RB C.J. Walker, 5-11/175, Lyman (Colorado, Eastern Kentucky, junior college); RB Maurice Wells, 5-10/177, Jacksonville Sandalwood (Georgia Tech, Ohio State).
GEORGIA: DL Roderick Battle, 6-4/245, Atlanta Douglass (Georgia); LB Antonio Clay, 6-1/207, Jeffersonville Twiggs Co. (Clemson, FSU, Georgia, Miami, Oklahoma); RB James Davis, 6-0/205, Atlanta Douglass (Clemson, Ohio State, Tennessee, Va. Tech); OL Paul Duncan, 6-6/292, Dallas East Paulding (Duke, LSU, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, UCLA); DL Brandon Sesay, 6-6/245, Atlanta Douglass (Georgia); WR/CB Carlos Thomas, 5-11/170, College Park Banneker (Georgia Tech).
KENTUCKY: DB Lamar Alston, 6-2/190, Paducah Tilghman (Louisville); OL Mike Donoghue, 6-4/293, Covington Catholic (Louisville); DL Earl Heyman, 6-3/275, Louisville Ballard (Clemson, Indiana, Kentucky, L'ville, Nebraska); LB/RB Micah Johnson, 6-3/265, Fort Campbell (underclassman/junior); ATH Lee Renfro, 6-1/201, Pulaski Southwestern (Ball State, Cincinnati, Eastern Kentucky, Southern Miss); OL Corey Zirbel, 6-7/305, Murray (Michigan, Va. Tech).
LOUISIANA: LB Darryl Beckwith, 6-2/230, Baton Rouge Parkview Baptist (LSU); DB Jeremy Brown, 5-11/180, Kentwood (Undecided); RB Patrick Jackson, 5-10/195, Edgard West St. John (Duke, Oklahoma State, Tulane); RB Cary Koch, 6-0/170, Baton Rouge Dunham (Duke, Kentucky); ATH Joe McKnight, 6-0/190, River Ridge John Curtis (Underclassman/sophomore); WR LaTerryal Savoy, 6-3/200, Mamou (Michigan).
MISSISSIPPI: DL Jessie Bowman, 6-1/305, Sr. Brookhaven (Ole Miss, Miss. St., NW Louisiana); RB/LB Tim Holloway, 6-3/220, Seminary (Alabama, Ole Miss, Miss. St., Southern Miss); OL Josh McNeil, 6-4/285, Collins (LSU, Miss. St., Tennessee); WR Co-Eric Riley, 6-2/185, Lucedale George Co. (Miss. St., Southern Miss); ATH Travis Sanford, 6-3/200, Batesville South Panola (Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Miss. St., Tennessee); OL Calvin Wilson, Hattiesburg, 6-6/330, (Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss, Miss. St.).
NORTH CAROLINA: ATH James Arnold, 5-11/180, Mocksville Davie Co. (North Carolina); DE Everette Brown, 6-4/260, Wilson Beddingfield (FSU, UNC, NC State); OL Curtis Crouch, 6-6/320, Fayetteville E.E. Smith (Clemson, NC State, Oklahoma, Va. Tech); TE Jonathan Hannah, 6-4/255, Hope Mills South View (Clemson, FSU, Georgia, UNC, S. Carolina, Va. Tech); ATH Montario Hardesty, 6-2/190, New Bern (Clemson, UNC, NC State, Notre Dame, Tennessee); QB Cameron Sexton, 6-1/187, Laurinburg Scotland County (North Carolina).
SOUTH CAROLINA: ATH Sadat Chambers, 5-11/190, Central Pageland (Clemson); OT Jamarcus Grant 6-5/310, Mullins (Clemson); OL Hivera Green, 6-5/250, Conway (Clemson, Va. Tech); LB Josh Miller, 6-1/215, Manning (Clemson); DE Nathan Pepper, 6-3/240, Greenville (South Carolina); QB Jordan Sorrells, 6-3/190, Greenville (Furman).
TENNESSEE: RB Dustin Lindsey, 6-0/190, Alcoa (Underclassman/junior); RB Gaston Miller, 6-0/180, Murfreesboro Riverdale (Undecided); DE Chris Perkins, 6-3/240, Murfreesboro Riverdale (Undecided); QB Lee Sweeney, 6-4/210, Nashville Friendship Christian (Ariz. St., UConn, Hawaii, Kansas, Ole Miss, Troy); QB Cade Thompson, 6-2/185, Maryville (North Carolina); DL Dan Williams, 6-2/280, Memphis East (Alabama, Auburn, Memphis, Ole Miss, Miss. St., Tennessee).
TEXAS: E/LB Chris Brown, 6-3/220, Texarkana (Texas); DB Keenan Clayton, 6-2/210, Sulphur Springs (Oklahoma); WR Malcolm Kelly, 6-3/190, Longview (Oklahoma); RB Jovorski Lane, 6-1/240, Lufkin (Texas A&M); QB Colt McCoy, 6-0/180, Jim Ned (Texas); OL Michael Shumard, 6-4/285, Killeen Harker Heights (Texas A&M).
VIRGINIA: DE Antonio Appleby, 6-4/240, Virginia Beach Salem (Virginia); ATH Greg Boone, 6-4/255, Chesapeake Oscar Smith (Md, UNC, Va. Tech, West Va.); DE Stephen Friday, 6-5/210, Hampton Phoebus (Virginia Tech); LB Darryl Gresham Jr., 6-3/225, Roanoke Fleming (Virginia); WR Todd Nolen, 6-2/185, Hampton (UNC, Penn St., Va. Tech, Virginia); OL Antonio North, 6-4/315, Stafford North Stafford (Virginia Tech).Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times