Harrison Phillips and Calvin Strong met for the first time at the photo shoot for this year's All-Nebraska football team.
"I was hoping it would have been in the state finals,'' Phillips said. "But what a good way to meet, as captains of the all-state team."
Since Phillips' Millard West defense never faced Strong's Omaha North offense the past two years, we'll never know which of the state's most dominant players this season would have the upper hand.
They were easy selections as the honorary captains of the 93rd World-Herald All-Nebraska team.
Phillips is the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Stanford recruit who was an unwanted, but frequent, visitor in opponents' backfields. Of his 86 tackles, 21 resulted in losses and he had nine sacks. His signature play was blocking an Omaha Westside punt with his legs after getting upended during the Wildcats' state semifinal loss.
Strong is the 5-8, 172-pound junior who rushed for 3,008 yards and 43 touchdowns for the state champion Vikings. Both are Class A records and he is the first in the state to top 3,000 yards in a season.
"He's a great teammate. He's developed his leadership skills."
— North coach Larry Martin on running back Calvin Strong
Strong heads an offense that has Skyler Monaghan of Millard West and CJ Johnson of Bellevue West as wide receivers, and Michael Decker of North, Tom Young of Westside, Matt Clark of Syracuse, Zach Flott of Ralston and DJ Foster of Lincoln Southeast as offensive linemen.
Easton Stick of Omaha Creighton Prep is the quarterback, Strong, Isaac Wallace of Ralston and Jake Paulsen of Cozad are the running backs and Bryce Lyons of McCook the kicker.
With Phillips on the first-team defense are linemen Hanco Germishuys of Westside and Brian Arp of Kearney; linebackers Chase Reis of Grand Island, Will Schany of Blair and Jason Martin of North; defensive backs Zach Zeplin of Omaha Skutt, Trey Carr of Omaha Burke, Luke Gifford of Southeast, RJ Urzendowski of Prep and Drew Fitzmorris of Westside; and punter/athlete Christian Hagan of Westside.
Phillips, Strong, Monaghan, Foster, Carr and Urzendowski are repeat first-team players.
Strong is the fifth to make All-Nebraska as a sophomore and junior. Add in Decker and Martin, and North will have three All-Nebraska players to start their title defense next year.
"Those kids are very competitive, tough, hard-nosed kids. Typical blue-collar north Omaha,'' said North coach Larry Martin, no relation to the linebacker. "They're good kids to have on your team and their work ethic rubs off on other people on their respective sides of the ball."
The other juniors on the team are Clark, Lyons and Arp.
Westside has the most selections with four. Omaha North has three, with two apiece from Millard West, Prep, Southeast and Ralston. There are 14 from the Metro Conference, which had seven of the eight teams in the Class A quarterfinals, four from the rest of Class A and six from outside Class A.
All-Nebraska and all-state selections are based on observations by The World-Herald staff and nominations by high school coaches. All coaches were emailed nomination forms.
As it was for the All-Metro Conference team announced on Saturday, quarterback was the most competitive position in the All-Nebraska selection process. Among those with solid credentials were incumbent Alec Ditoro of Papillion-La Vista, who finished as the state's career leader in yards and touchdowns; 2013 Class A yardage and touchdown leader Brad Brazeal of Bellevue West; junior Pierce Almond of Grand Island; and Clay Fisher of Millard North, who was an All-Nebraska defensive back last year but didn't play the position to best help his team at quarterback.
Ditoro and Fisher, chosen as a running back, head the All-Nebraska second team.
"He has a great upside."
— Millard West coach Kirk Peterson on defensive lineman Harrison Phillips
Phillips had a senior season better than Millard West coach Kirk Peterson ever anticipated.
"The one knock I had on him was he was heavy-footed. There was a play his junior year against Millard South where (quarterback) Anthony Cloyd juked him out of his socks," Peterson said. "I said to him that a Division I player does not let that happen and I think he took that to heart.
"After the season, he would do the team workout in whatever sport he was in and then do the extra for football, seeing a trainer, going to Going Vertical, things to make himself a Division I recruit. I wish I could take credit, but he did it on his own."
Peterson said Phillips has the upper body strength colleges like in their linemen and has room to add 20 or 30 pounds without losing speed.
"He has a great upside,'' Peterson said.
Strong divulged after the Vikings' 23-21 win over Westside for the state title that he had been playing with a turf-toe injury. Martin said last week that Strong came into last summer with a hamstring injury, too, that took time to heal.
"One thing I felt bad about was his number of carries this season, but they just added up. He had a great year," the coach said. "Some may think he doesn't have the breakaway speed, but his burst out of the gate, his toughness and his ability to read blocks are pretty special.
"He's a great teammate. He's developed his leadership skills. We knew we had to have a guy in the huddle that was a go-to, so as a staff, we made Calvin that guy. He embraced that every day and held us together in tough times."
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Meet the All-Nebraska first team
CJ Johnson, Bellevue West, Receiver, 6-2, 180, Jr.
Is No. 3 on Class A's career receiving chart with 2,334 yards, including a record 1,364 on a record 79 catches this year.
Skyler Monaghan, Millard West, Receiver, 5-10, 175, Sr.
He returned three kickoffs and a punt for TDs. He's No. 2 on the Class A career list with 2,456 yards.
DJ Foster, Lincoln Southeast, Line, 6-3, 305, Sr.
He was a three-year starter. "A devastating blocker,'' coach Ryan Gottula said. Will join older brother Trey at Nebraska.
Michael Decker, Omaha North, Line, 6-3, 280, Jr.
He was a key cog in an offense that ground out 414 yards a game and a defense that helped produce a state title.
Tom Young, Omaha Westside, Line, 6-3, 275, Sr.
Young set the school's season (76) and career records for knockdowns.
Matt Clark, Syracuse, Line, 6-5, 290, Jr.
Nebraska and Wisconsin are interested in Clark, who dominated on both sides of the ball for the Rockets.
Zach Flott, Ralston, Line, 6-5, 295, Sr.
When not opening holes for record-setting back Isaac Wallace, he was wreaking havoc on defense with 38 solo tackles.
Easton Stick, Creighton Prep, Quarterback, 6-3, 205, Sr.
The school's only 2,000-yard passer did it twice, throwing for 2,011 yards in 2013 while running for 481.
Calvin Strong, Omaha North, Running back, 5-8, 172, Jr.
The state's first 3,000-yard rusher, he also scored a Class A-record 43 touchdowns.
Isaac Wallace, Ralston, Running back, 6-2, 190, Sr.
Back-to-back 400-yard games, a first in 11 man, helped him to 2,549 yards, and he scored a Class B-record 39 TDs.
Jake Paulsen, Cozad, Running back, 5-11, 175, Sr.
Ran for 2,534 yards, averaging 10 yards a carry, for the Class C-1 champion Haymakers.
Bryce Lyons, McCook, Kicker, 5-11, 140, Jr.
Broke the Class B record by making 13 field goals in 17 attempts. Also was a wide receiver and defensive back.
Harrison Phillips, Millard West, Line, 6-3, 250, Sr.
The Stanford recruit tore up offenses. He made 86 tackles, including 21 for losses and nine sacks.
Hanco Germishuys, Omaha Westside, Line, 6-0, 220, Sr.
The first All-Nebraska player with plans to play pro rugby, he had 84 tackles as a nose guard.
Brian Arp, Kearney, Line, 6-3, 260, Jr.
Arp had 34 solo tackles and 33 assists, 12 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, caused four fumbles and recovered three.
Chase Reis, Grand Island, Linebacker, 6-1, 220, Sr.
The two-way starter led Grand Island with 57 solo tackles and 51 assists as a key run-stopper.
Will Schany, Blair, Linebacker, 5-10, 190, Sr.
The Virginia wrestling recruit made 128 tackles while rushing for 1,328 yards and 12 TDs in 10 games.
Jason Martin, Omaha North, Linebacker, 5-8, 190, Jr.
Contributed 94 tackles, five sacks and two takeaways to the state-champion Vikings.
Zach Zeplin, Omaha Skutt, Back, 6-1, 180, Sr.
With three interceptions in the Class B title game, he finished with a Class B-best eight.
Trey Carr, Omaha Burke, Back, 5-11, 170, Sr.
A two-time All-Nebraska pick, he led Class A with six interceptions.
Luke Gifford, Lincoln Southeast, Back, 6-4, 205, Sr.
The Nebraska recruit, who also started at quarterback, had 50 tackles and two interceptions.
RJ Urzendowski, Creighton Prep, Back, 6-1, 190, Sr.
Had 33 tackles and three takeaways. Broke Class A's career receiving record with 2,592 yards.
Drew Fitzmorris, Omaha Westside, Back, 5-10, 180, Sr.
Fitzmorris made 163 tackles and broke up 11 passes. Scored 15 touchdowns on offense.
Christian Hagan, Omaha Westside, Athlete/Punter, 6-1, 175, Sr.
Averaged 35 yards per punt, was 9 of 15 on field goals and set three school passing records.