PHOENIX — Phoenix native John Phillips is approaching the end of the NFL Draft process — an experience unlike anything he envisioned throughout his football career as an offensive lineman at Boston College and Syracuse-Christian Brothers Academy.
Phillips has spent the past month living with his parents in Phoenix, training in their garage with equipment temporarily donated by community members and his former high school while working with his agent to coordinate video conferences with NFL front offices.
Phillips was forced to drastically alter his pre-draft plans when NFL pro-day workouts were canceled for all college teams and other travel and gathering restrictions were enacted due to COVID-19. He was originally scheduled to drill and perform for NFL scouts March 18 on the B.C. campus and continue working out near Boston with former Golden Eagles teammates and alumni for several weeks afterward.
The NFL Draft will be conducted from April 23-25 in an all-virtual format and be televised by ESPN and the NFL Network.
“It’s really been like kind of a roller coaster,” Phillips said. “You get to a point, you’re physically exhausted and beat up after a long season, you take a week off and then you’re right back into it for like a 10-week training program, all leading up to this pro day. So, not getting a chance to do the pro day put everyone in limbo. We didn’t know what to do. Do we stay home and train? Is it postponed or canceled? Should I be continuing to work 40 (yard dash) times, stuff that’s combine-related, or get more into strength training again? There were a lot of questions at first.”
Phillips is rated as the No. 24 offensive guard in the latest Athlon Sports draft class rankings, and No. 31 among all interior linemen by Matt Miller of Bleacher Report.
The 6-foot-6, 308-pound prospect also played tackle during his tenure for the Golden Eagles. This past season, Phillips finished second among all Atlantic Coast Conference linemen with a 72.5 performance rating by Pro Football Focus and was named first-team All-ACC.
Phillips said he plans to lay low with a few family members — complying with social distancing guidelines — during the three days of the draft to see if his name is called or if he will instead pursue an undrafted free-agent opportunity.
“I know I’ve done just about all I can,” Phillips said of his mindset entering the draft. “There are always ways to look back and think: ‘Oh, I should have done this.’ But at this point, all I have to do is stay in shape and be ready to go with whatever team gives me a shot. There is almost a comfort in knowing that now I just need to keep pushing myself and get stronger and when I get my chance, just play as well as I can.”
Former Boston College coach Steve Addazio, who coached Phillips throughout his five seasons with the program, told the Boston Herald early last season: “John’s done it the right way. John is having a great year and he will have a great opportunity to play at the next level.”
Phillips spent two months training in Florida after Boston College’s loss to Cincinnati in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 2, taking a brief pause to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl Jan. 18 in Tampa Bay.
He returned to his parents’ Oswego County home on March 10 for what was initially set to be a brief visit, and then had planned to drive to Boston for several weeks of on-field drills and technique work with a group of former teammates that included at least five fellow offensive linemen.
Phillips then received a text message from an Alabama player that he had recently trained with stating that his pro day was called off, and Phillips learned the inevitable of his cancellation soon after.
“I imagined having that pro day and then training with my buddies that I’ve been playing football with for so long, and then coming back home for the week before the draft and just kind of taking a breath,” Phillips said. “We don’t even know now, after the draft, we don’t know where we’re going. Normally that weekend after, you’ll go to the team you sign with and start minicamps and things like that. It just leaves a lot of questions and kind of confuses a lot of things. … It’s just as confusing for us as it is for (NFL teams).”
The loss of a pro day deprived Phillips and other draft hopefuls that didn’t receive an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine in February of the prime opportunity to make an impression on NFL scouts.
The workouts were scheduled to be conducted on the Boston College campus with former teammates, including All-ACC running back and a likely mid-round draft pick, A.J. Dillon.
“It’s really just your shot to show the scouts the intangibles that you have,” Phillips said. “It’s a great time to set yourself apart athletically, and it also allows them to get a good view of who you are. They look for a lot of things, how you communicate with your teammates while you’re there, whether you’re cheering them on or sort of off by yourself, do you sprint through the line during drills, do you walk back, do you sulk if it’s a bad rep, all those little things. Pro Day is really important for guys like me that didn’t get an invite to the combine who were just looking to showcase their talent in front of scouts.”
Phillips has utilized virtual avenues in an attempt to enter the radar of more NFL teams and accommodate for the loss of a pro day. The NFL also canceled all team visits and in-person meetings with draft prospects last month.
His agent sent a mock pro day workout to teams in which Phillips performed and recorded combine-like drills — bench press reps, 40-yard dash, etc. — and he has made himself available for Zoom video meetings with any interested teams. Phillips said most of his fellow prospects are taking similar measures.
“It’s just kind of being ready to do whatever they ask,” Phillips said. “If they want to do one of those Zoom interviews, you’re making sure that you’re sharp on your playbook and what you did in college, and just being able to talk football.”
Phillips said that he felt fortunate for the contributions from community members in Phoenix and Syracuse for helping him endure the unique circumstances and remain on track to realize his NFL dream.
“Being home for this time presents its own set of challenges because no gyms are open right now and you’re not supposed to be out on a practice field where it might be ideal to go running,” Phillips said. “I was very fortunate to have some random people around my neighborhood help me out. My dad reached out to people, my old high school helped out a bit, so now I pretty much have a whole weight room in my garage, basically everything I need to stay in shape and really keep working.”
John Phillips is the son of Paul and Theresa Phillips. His father played college football as a defensive tackle at Colgate while his grandfather, Carl Phillips, was a running back at Morrisville College. John’s brother, Andrew Phillips, played offensive line for Syracuse University from 2009-12, and his sister, Shannon, played lacrosse at Robert Morris.