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Harrison Phillips is always aiming higher

MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD

Harrison Phillips intends to wrestle at Stanford after spending a year establishing himself in football, his scholarship sport. His academic career is an open canvas. "I'm curious to figure out how I can better the world," he said. "I want to make a name outside football or wrestling. I hope there's a Ph.D behind my name or I'm a Dr. Phillips — something more I can do for the community or do for the world than just be a name on the back of a jersey."

Phillips plans to play two sports at Stanford, and that's just a start

By Stu Pospisil / World-Herald staff writer

THE WORLD-HERALD

Phillips, shown bringing down Nebraska recruit Luke Gifford of Lincoln Southeast, registered nine sacks and 21 tackles for loss among 86 overall stops last fall. But it still bothers him that the Wildcats lost in the state semifinals.

PAST WINNERS


2013: Nathan Bazata, Howells-Dodge
2012: Mike Shoff, Cambridge
2011: Ted Lampkin, Omaha Central
2010: Deverell Biggs, Omaha Central
2009: Ron Coleman, Omaha North
2008: John Levorson, Crete
2007: Niles Paul, Omaha North
2006: Ian Dike, Lincoln SW
2005: Robert Rands, Bellevue East
2004: Danny Woodhead, North Platte
2003: Andy Birkel, Lincoln SE
2002: Shawn Swan, Ralston
2001: Alex Gordon, Lincoln SE
2000: Richard Ross, Lincoln High
1999: Trevor Johnson, Lincoln NE
1998: Aaron Golliday, York
1997: Matt Davison, Tecumseh
1996: John Gibson, Papillion-La Vista
1995: Ahman Green, Omaha Central
1994: Ted Butler, Lincoln SE
1993: Scott Frost, Wood River
1992: Erick Strickland, Bellevue West
1991: Clester Johnson, Bellevue West
1990: Cory Schlesinger, Columbus
1989: Scott Bream, Millard South
1988: Kevin Ramaekers, Norfolk Cath.
1987: Tom Haase, Aurora
1986: Leodis Flowers, Omaha Central
1985: Gerry Gdowski, Fremont
1984: John Kroeker, Henderson
1983: Jeff Taylor, Omaha Westside
1982: Larry Station, Omaha Central
1981: Marty Kobza, Schuyler
1980: Kevin Penner, Aurora
1979: John Sherlock, Omaha South
1978: Jim Hartung, Omaha South
1977: Mike McGee, Omaha North
1976: Tim Wurth, Omaha Burke
1975: Doug Phelps, Hastings
1974: Pat Hodges, Lexington
1973: Bob Siegel, Fairbury
1972: Bob Martin, David City
1971: Tom Kropp, Aurora
1970: Maurice Damkroger, Lincoln NE
1969: Johnny Rodgers, Omaha Tech
1968: Max Linder, Plattsmouth
1967: Tom Heller, Kearney
1966: Randy Reeves, Omaha Benson
1965: Dick Davis, Omaha North
1964: John Sanders, Grand Island
1963: Fred Hare, Omaha Tech
1962: David Lebsack, Lincoln NE
1961: Kent McCloughan, Broken Bow
1960: Bob Hohn, Beatrice
1959: Bob Eickholt, Omaha Holy Name
1958: Monte Kiffin, Lexington
1957: Mike Iseman, Fremont
1956: Duane Buchtel, Clay Center
1955: Tom Osborne, Hastings
1954: Richard Knaub, Scottsbluff
1953: Don Erway, Lincoln High
1952: John Neff, Fremont
1951: "Hoppy" McCue, Arapahoe


Harrison Phillips isn't easy to typecast.

Dominant in athletics, this year's Nebraska high school boys athlete of the year is multi-dimensional elsewhere.

There are facets to Phillips you don't see when watching him sack the quarterback or force into submission another overmatched wrestler.

He overcame a serious lower back injury as a sixth-grader — initially thought to end his football career — that requires him to wear a back brace on the field and while lifting weights.

He has sung in the youth choir and acted in plays in his church.

He's versed enough in gymnastics — and limber enough — to be able to do the splits or a back-flip.

He's out to have "Dr." attached to his name someday.

Stanford University is getting a Millard West graduate who believes he can make his mark as a football player and a wrestler while filled with career ambitions beyond competitive sports.

"I'm curious to figure out how I can better the world," he said. "I want to make a name outside football or wrestling. I hope there's a Ph.D behind my name or I'm a Dr. Phillips — something more I can do for the community or do for the world than just be a name on the back of a jersey."

Phillips, the 64th boys athlete of the year, was a two-time All-Nebraska defensive lineman in football, a three-time state wrestling champion and a two-time place-winner in the discus who was Class A runner-up as a senior.

The award's other finalists:

» Jakson Reetz of Norris, who signed last week as a third-round draft choice of the National League's Washington Nationals.

» Jacob Molacek of Omaha Creighton Prep, the state's first swimmer to set a national high school record.

» Drew Fitzmorris of Omaha Westside, the only boy to make the All-Nebraska first team in two sports.

» Will Schany of Blair, a Virginia wrestling recruit and All-Nebraska football player.

» Ty Danielson of York, who was Class B all-state in football and basketball and a Class B relay champion in track.

Phillips showed his precociousness early — he said he was running at 9 months.

He hit high gear as a senior, leaving quarterbacks with nightmares and bruises. Of his 86 tackles, nine were sacks and 21 resulted in losses. The signature play for the 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end was blocking a Westside punt with his legs after getting upended in the state semifinals.

But what sticks with Phillips is that the Wildcats lost that game.

"It's been seven, eight months, and I can't get over the fact I'm not a state champion in football," he said. "It's the one thing I worked hardest for and didn't get."

Kirk Peterson, Millard West's football coach, said Phillips was driven to be a Division I recruit — sometimes too driven early in his high school career.

"As he got older and figured out the more he could do to make the team successful was going to help him, too, our relationship got better,'' Peterson said. "The best thing that happened was he got an early offer (from Stanford). He relaxed, and worried only about how to make Millard West successful in all three sports."

As Millard West's first three-time state wrestling champion, Phillips was undefeated as a junior and senior to finish with a 119-9 career record. Seven of the losses came as a freshman at 189 pounds, "wrestling all seniors, middle-linebacker and all-state types."

He won't wrestle at Stanford until his sophomore year so he can establish himself in football, his scholarship sport.

Entering this spring, Phillips said, he was unsure whether he wanted to go back out for track and field to throw the discus. He could have been working out every day for football.

A talk with track coach Max Kurz changed his outlook.

" 'The team needs you,' he told me. That had me about 80 percent in," Phillips said. "And I wanted to win the athlete of the year award. That was the other 20 percent."

As you'd expect from a driven athlete, a silver medal in the discus fell short of his individual hopes.

"Second place is never good enough, but I was there and I competed and put my team in position to contend for the team title."

Add in an invitation to a national all-star football game, selection as a team captain for last weekend's Nebraska Shrine Bowl and many invitational honors, and it was a rewarding finish to his prep career.

"It's hard sometimes to stay humble with it, because there's a lot thrown at you, but that's what I try to do," Phillips said. "When I feel that my head is getting too big, I just think about, hey, you weren't state champion in football and that's what you wanted. So it's easy to get back grounded."

Contact the writer:

402-444-1041, stu.pospisil@owh.com, twitter.com/stuOWH


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