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Northwest’s L.J. Phillips thrilled to be back on the football field

By Joanna Chadwick

After a full week of football practice, Northwest running back L.J. Phillips’ eagerness for the start of the season hadn’t diminished. Rather, it had increased.

Phillips was eager to be back on the field on Sept. 2 — with his team, with the football in his hands, against rival Bishop Carroll.

Eager just to play.

“This month is going so slow,” Phillips said. “I want it to go so much faster.”

Phillips’ junior season was cut short after suffering an ACL tear against Kapaun Mount Carmel.

“Last year was going really good, I was starting to get the rhythm and the game was really slowing down for me,” he said. “I felt comfortable. Just felt good.

“Then we played Kapaun in the (Class 5A) playoffs. It was my first run of the game. Coach called my number … I tried to cut back inside and my leg got stuck in the turf. I tore my ACL and my LCL.

“Oh, it was very painful. As soon as it happened, I just threw the ball.”

He didn’t realize his junior year of sports was over. Phillips thought he’d get some tape on it and be back on the field.

“I came to the table, and they started bending my leg, bending in places it shouldn’t have — I knew it was bad,” he said. “It was tough. My dad was there. He told me he was proud of me and that we’d get through this together. My mom, everyone supported me.

“I broke down in tears.”

Offensive lineman Jacob Lamb recalled the play: “He was going to the right side and he was trying to get the extra yards, fighting for everything he could get. He just got hit wrong. It was sad.”

Phillips, who also plays basketball and baseball, was forced to spend the next months in rehab.

“It was hard mentally,” he said. “Seeing those sports go by and knowing I wasn’t allowed to do it.”

He focused on his rehab, focused on not rushing the process simply because he was bored.

It was frustrating at times because, while his right leg was strong, his left leg wasn’t doing what it used to.

On Aug. 1 he was cleared for practice. He put on pads for the first time on Wednesday.

“He might be better than last year,” Lamb said. “He’s done everything the trainer asked and more. He came in on maxes last week and squatted almost 500 pounds. He’s a beast. He’s a fighter.”

Phillips said his arms and chest are bigger, his shoulders broader due to the time he spent working to get back on the field.

“That helps to take more hits and deliver them,” he said.

Phillips’ skill coming out of the backfield is varied. He’s got speed, as well as the ability to go through a defender or around him.

“He’s the toughest guy I know,” Lamb said. “I’m watching him on one of the drills, and you can easily tell he stands out.

“He is knocking everyone down as a running back. He’ll run you over, he’ll run around you, he’ll run through you, he’ll juke you out, he’ll reverse the field. If you’re thinking of taking down L.J., you better bring your best shot.”

While Phillips is a primary option for Northwest, opponents must also contend with a talented offensive line that includes Lamb, Nathan Davis and Alex Herrera. Lamb also notes that Dalton Schraeder and Connor Armstrong will be key components.

And then there’s also Cencere Thompson coming out of the backfield.

“He’s another Division I caliber athlete,” Lamb said. “He’s a bully, he’s shifty, very fast. He’s very, very strong.”

And Phillips takes his job as a blocker seriously.

“It’s what the great Northwest running backs do,” Phillips said. “Cencere Thompson will block for me, and I’ll do the same for him. There’s no hate. We love to see each other succeed.”

 

 

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