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La Habra’s Clark Phillips III hopes to start an Ohio State trend

La Habra’s Clark Phillips III hopes to start an Ohio State trend
La Habra cornerback Clark Phillips III pursues a receiver during a drill at the Opening Los Angeles Regional on Feb. 10. (Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

Clark Phillips III is a leader.

At La Habra High, the two-way star in football is a captain. He contributes to the Highlanders’ success on the field with his playmaking ability, but he also tries to make sure his teammates are successful off the field.

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He checks on their grades and is always willing to dole out advice and work with younger players to improve their skills. He celebrates their successes more than his own. His teammates look at him with admiration and are willing to follow his example.

Phillips is now hoping to lead a different group after making his college commitment to Ohio State last week while on a visit. He wants to be a trendsetter, galvanizing others in the West to follow him to Columbus.

The 5-foot-10 1/2, 178-pound four-star cornerback prospect has his eyes set on a pair of safeties. Bellflower St. John Bosco’s Kourt Williams and Lathan Ransom of Tucson Salpointe Catholic were also in Columbus for a visit last weekend.

Phillips wants them to help produce one of the top defensive back recruiting classes in the nation. He’ll get a chance to be in the ear of Williams and Ransom next week when all three (and a number of other Ohio State targets) are competing in the Opening Finals in Dallas.

“It’s going to be a lot of my boys out there, a lot of Ohio State [commits]. We’re working on a couple more as well,” Phillips said. “Definitely we’re working on those guys. I bet you in a couple of months I’m going to have a couple of these guys committed.”

The Buckeyes have a commitment from Lejond Cavazos of Bradenton IMG Academy in Florida. Cavazos could play cornerback or safety next season. But Ohio State has to replenish its secondary with the possibility of losing four starters after the 2019 season.

Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller are seniors. Junior cornerback Jeffrey Okudah is expected to be an early-round draft pick and is likely to leave early, while redshirt sophomore Shaun Wade is also a candidate to leave.

There are five other juniors in the secondary, so over the next two years the Buckeyes will lose nine defensive backs, including seven who were four- or five-star prospects coming out of high school.

Family decision

Phillips is ranked the No. 25 overall prospect in the nation and the No. 3 cornerback by 247Sports. Nabbing his commitment was particularly important because Ohio State did not sign a pure cornerback in its 2019 class.

The Buckeyes had to win over more than Phillips. He admitted having a different feeling about Ohio State than any other program after his first visit, but he wanted his parents to experience Columbus and get their feedback.

“I just felt overall really, really comfortable,” Phillips said. “The down-to-Earthness of all the players and the coaches and the ability to make everyone family. I felt a family-type of vibe when I was there. I talked to my parents about it. They felt the same way. I got the thumbs up from them.

“It’s like it was a family decision,” he added. “It’s super big for the family. Super big.”

NFL allure

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Phillips said one of the things that attracted him to Ohio State was its defensive backs legacy and the number of players who advance to the NFL. The Buckeyes have had 10 defensive backs drafted in the last six years, including five cornerbacks selected in the first round.

“I’m excited to be a part of that,” Phillips said. “And hopefully, I’ll be able to come back and talk to some more Buckeyes when I’m in the pros.”

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