PROVO — When he first heard the news, BYU's Drew Phillips couldn't wait to call his parents.
Last November, the school announced that its 2011 season-opener — and first game as an independent — would be played practically in the redshirt freshman running back's backyard, at Ole Miss, on Sept. 3.
Phillips was understandably thrilled. Oxford, Miss., is relatively close to his hometown of Boaz, Ala.
"I told my parents, 'I got you tickets,' " Phillips recalled this week. "They said, 'What do you mean?' I told them we were playing at Ole Miss and they were excited. Ole Miss is only a 41/2-hour drive from home. My high school coaches back home are getting tickets. I have a bunch of friends who are going the game, too. I'll have my own cheering section. It will be good to play close to home, where family and friends can come watch."
The 5-foot-11, 168-pound Phillips, who has been clocked with 4.39 speed in the 40-yard dash and rushed for more than 5,000 yards in his high school career, is looking forward to his college football debut after playing on the scout team a year ago.
"I think I'll play in certain situations this year," Phillips said, explaining that he expects to share time in the backfield this fall with fellow running backs JJ DiLuigi and Joshua Quezada, and, at times, line up in the slot, too. "They can put me out in the slot to get me mismatches with the linebackers because of my speed. I don't think I'll get a ton of playing time in my first year, but on special teams I see myself starting on kick returns."
But Phillips missed the first day of spring drills due to academic issues, and he's seen limited action to this point.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is reserving judgment on what role Phillips will play in the fall.
"Drew has a lot to show in terms of consistency," he said. "He's a potential playmaker. But life choices, day in and day out, are something he can work on."
Phillips arrived at BYU last summer, with plans to contribute right away. But he was sidelined on the first day of fall camp due to an NCAA clearinghouse issue. Days later, after he had been cleared to play, he suffered an injury that forced him to miss the rest of fall camp. So he spent the season on the scout team.
"That helped me prepare a lot for this season," Phillips said. "When I was redshirting, I wanted to play. I was down on myself at first. But I talked to coach Mendenhall and he opened my eyes to realize it was a developing year for me. I was just coming out of high school. I was 18 years old.
"The scout team helped me get used to the speed of the game, especially going against our defense, which was one of the top 25 defenses in the nation. Redshirting and the scout team helped me."
Phillips has enjoyed working with first-year running backs coach Joe DuPaix.
"I love him to death. I treat him like my father figure while I'm out here," he said. "My dad is 27 hours away, so I go to coach DuPaix for everything. He stays on top of me, helping me with football and school and everything. If we mess up at practice, he'll let us know.
"He has so much excitement and energy. He pushes you to try harder. He's a big motivational boost for me."62 comments on this story
As for adapting to the environment in Provo and at BYU, Phillips said he's doing fine.
"It's pretty different here. Right now, back home in Alabama, it's 88 degrees. Coming out here playing in 40-degree weather, when you get hit, your body starts to ache," he said.
"The lifestyle ain't bad. I go by the rules back home. I'm Christian. We just don't have the Book of Mormon added. We pretty much live by the same guidelines. The transition in lifestyle hasn't been a big deal. The weather has been the most shocking thing."