published Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

Freshman Reese Phillips in Kentucky quarterback mix

Reese Phillips plays in the 2013 Blue/White spring game at Commonwealth Stadium in this April 13, 2013, file photo.
Reese Phillips plays in the 2013 Blue/White spring game at Commonwealth Stadium in this April 13, 2013, file photo.

Less than six months ago, Reese Phillips unpacked his car and that of his mom, told her so long and began settling into his new home at the University of Kentucky.

It was only a couple of months since he'd been a star quarterback at Signal Mountain, and now he's looking to become a Bluegrass star at Lexington's Commonwealth Stadium.

With three sophomores and a redshirt freshman ahead of him in the pecking order going into spring practice, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder seemed destined for a redshirt season headed into Kentucky's spring football game.

That decision is no longer etched in indelible ink.

With a near-record crowd of 50,000-plus looking on, Phillips completed 10 of 12 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown, impressing fans and new UK offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Neal Brown.

"They were thinking about [redshirting]. After the spring game it's up in the air," Phillips said. "I have a chance now."

A redshirt season would allow him to put some more muscle on his still-growing frame, get a better grasp of the air-raid-like offense and anchor his academic standing after a 3.5-GPA first semester. That quiet development is no longer a priority after his first college performance under the lights.

"I was OK with redshirting," Phillips said. "I lost some of my confidence, but after the spring game I didn't feel I wanted to sit on the sidelines. I hadn't been in a football environment in a while, and then being in front of 50,000 fans -- that was so much fun."

All five quarterbacks got snaps in the spring game, most going to sophomores Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles and Maxwell Smith. Still, the situation is similar to the approach head coach Mark Stoops and Brown took entering spring practice. They haven't named a starter and apparently are in no hurry to do so.

"There's going to be some fundamental things that are non-negotiable that we're going to do, but all are going to start on the same level playing field: Best man wins," Brown said befoe the Wildcats started spring drills. "I don't have any ties to any of the three of them. I'm going to coach them like they're my own, like I recruited them and the whole deal, but the best man is going to play."

And now Phillips is in the mix.

"All [Brown] told me was that I moved up a lot and that we don't have a starter," he said. "He said if the season began at the spring game that Jalen would be the starter but that everyone would have a chance. He told me if I came out and did the best that he'd start me."

Phillips already has made major adjustments -- from knowing no one to making friends, from not knowing expectations of his coaches to learning and starting to meet those expectations.

"The playbook isn't that hard as far as the concept," Phillips said. "The hardest part is the speed of the game, and by that I mean how fast we move as a [no-huddle] offense. There's a lot to learn. The quarterbacks probably spend 10 times more in meetings than other positions. We watch every single practice and every rep."

The critiques were tough.

"I'd watch my plays each morning after practice, and there were comments for both the good and the bad," he said, admitting that there were days that he went to practice in less than upbeat moods. "I'd go into the critiques thinking I'd done pretty well on certain plays and come out thinking, 'Dang, I didn't do that so well after all.' You're looking for perfection all the way down to your footwork."

Critique are easier to absorb, though, after playing for Bill Price at Signal Mountain.

"He was tough. There were times he screamed at me and everyone else," Phillips said. "Even if it was close to perfect he'd sometimes scream because it wasn't perfect, but that's football and I learned a lot from him."

Phillips decided to remain in Lexington and take summer courses while continuing to throw with receivers.

"So much depends on how much and how quickly I can pick things up and whether or not coaches think I can take the pressure," he said. "It's a win-win situation for me. I'll start or I'll redshirt."

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 42-886-4765.

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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