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2018 NFL Draft prospect interview: Stanford DT Harrison Phillips

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The Stanford senior has an infectious energy.

During the Senior Bowl, Buffalo Rumblings conducted several interviews with prospects in attendance for the game. One of the most loquacious interviews was Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips. Phillips talked with us for nearly 15 minutes, covering his game preparation, NFL comparisons, his injury history, and his off-field passions.

How has the Senior Bowl week been going?

This week alone, it’s been good so far. Just anxious to put on pads, I mean that’s really what it comes on down to. The people want to get to know us, and the interviews and the psychological testing, it’s all cool. It’s really exciting, each time you talk to a new team, you’re just like “Oh I could see myself there, I could see myself there.” But ultimately it comes down to practice, how you play down here, try to win.

And the pre-draft process?

Up to this point it’s been amazing. I love the whole training thing, I’m completely done with school, graduated. Having football be your life 24/7 is what the dream’s been for 21 years. I’m super happy, loving everything I do. I’ve been working with Jim Washburn, great defensive line coach. We watch a lot of tape of Suh and some of the guys he’s had, and so I’m just constantly getting better, working out, running, watching film, doing field work, it’s just a lot of fun.

What kind of a player do you like to model yourself after? Whether it’s schematically or just style or attributes?

It’s tough, there’s a lot of great, great players. Everybody has different attributes, and because of the defense I was in, in base I was playing a zero-nose. So, there’s not too many zero-noses that look the way I am or play the way I do or have the production the way I do. There aren’t a lot of comparisons, but I see myself as a defensive tackle, so I really enjoy watching Suh’s tape. I enjoy watching a guy like Kyle Williams and Derek Wolfe. You know, big guys and strong guys, tough guys who just want it. Want it and love the game, and don’t see life without it. That’s a very similar boat that I’m in, I have that same mentality, and I feel that I stack up athletically to all of them.

So you have that wrestling background, and can you speak about how that has helped you develop as a defensive lineman?

Leverage helps a lot, obviously. Just strength, hip flexibility and hand placement, as well as the anticipation that comes with wrestling. You have to feel things a lot, real quickly. You need to feel like “oh, his weight’s shifting, he’s about to shoot” or “his weight’s shifting, I have an opportunity to shoot.” In the same way, on run plays or pass plays, if an offensive lineman’s lunging at me, I can feel it quickly and try to shed, or on a pass play, feeling that someone’s light in their stance or something like that. As well as the mental side of the game, where in wrestling there’s no one else to blame, it’s just one-on-one, and when you get those one-on-one opportunities in football you need to have the same mentality.

Bills coach Sean McDermott also has a wrestling background, and he still does MMA training before he goes to the team facility. If you ever got to visit with the Bills, are you gonna challenge McDermott to a one-on-one?

Yeah, I was joking with one of the Bills scouts, he was telling me that and I said “wouldn’t it be funny if Day one I go up and shake his hand and hit an outside single or something like that.” I don’t know if I’ll have enough guts to do it as a first impression but it’d have been a lasting one.

How often do you search your name on Twitter? I tweeted your measurements this morning and you “liked” it five minutes later.

I was following the hashtag #SeniorBowl, so I saw it pop up with that. I try to stay away... my mom loves all the social media stuff, so she tries to update me once in a while with what people are saying. I love it, I love the fanbases and want to have fun with it, but obviously you want to stay away from the negative comments in the process as much as you can.

Besides the football work, do you have other hobbies or passions off the field that you’re really excited about?

Well I do a ton of community service work. I helped create a non-profit, I’m on the board of one. I did a lot of tutoring back when I was at school, literacy, and math skills. I really am fired up about that stuff. This is the only time in your life you’re supposed to be selfish, in this process, so I’m trying to just focus on myself and surrender some of the community service that I’ve been working on, but that’s one thing that I’m really fired up about, and I’m really proud of the kids, love calling them and checking in.

I’m just curious how an interior lineman gets 100 tackles - that’s a mind-boggling number to me. How do you manage to do that?

It was an accumulation of a lot of things, I give credit to my coaching staff and my teammates. A lot of it is because linebackers help double teams come off of me, some of my other defensive linemen would hold up blocks and create a cutback so I could go make a play. I had to play within the defense and do my job, I wanted a high technique grade by my coaches, that’s the most important to try to win a game. When the time came and the game was on the line they pulled me aside and said “Go win, get it done,” and so I appreciate that and them seeing me as not just a big 350-pound nose guard that can’t move but appreciating that I’m a lot more athletic than I get credit for, that I have a good skill set, I’m extremely strong. During the season it’s hard to get in a ton of extra work, so I did all the stuff in the offseason, did more reps than everybody, first one in last one out, all of that.

But when you get to the season, you can’t really be doing that, because physically you have to be ready for the game. So I can’t go run suicides and bench the house. I credit it to film study and a lot of the tendencies we get - as much as I could, coming out of timeouts or when the ball would be slowed down a little bit, I would figure out if it was 12 personnel, I would find out where the running back-tight end split is, and I’d know *snap* “This is about to be power.” “I’m about to be double-teamed.” “I know this guard’s about to pull.” If you watch my tape you can see it on film, where the ball’s just being snapped and my eyes are already moving.

Can you talk about how you go about the process of studying for a game?

My biggest passion is football, so when you’re in love with something that’s the only thing you can think about. So it’s just always on my mind, I’m always going through stuff in my head. We get a bunch of tendency stuff. I appreciate our [graduate assistants] at Stanford, they do tons of stuff weeks in advance to get all of our protections...

I think I fell more in love with it the year I got injured. I got injured my sophomore year, and I felt like I wasn’t contributing with the team and it was really hard for me. So I met with the coaching staff and they said “hey, you can help us break down the film.” So I was working doing center-back splits, figuring out are people sliding to the field, to the boundary, where’s the strength, all this stuff. I was charting all that, I’d give it to the GA’s, they’d give it to the players to use. I realized how much more helpful that’d be, so I’d watch a game on the sideline and I’d be like “Woah, I know this play!” There was just a thing that clicked, like “all this stuff matters.”

Where do you think you end up in the NFL? You were a nose, what technique do you think?

DT - I can play pretty much over anybody, not necessarily edge rusher, but I can play three, one, shade, head-up on a tackle, I feel confident in all those areas.

Even watching you here for a few minutes, it seems you have trouble sitting still. How hard was it when you had a torn ACL?

You know, I’m just a type-A personality, always going. That year... one of the questions I had from a scout was “what’s the hardest thing for you going through” and I was like “the ACL”. He was like “oh, did it hurt?” No, no, no. Nothing about the ACL process, that was sick! I got to lift every day, go work out all the time, get strong!

It was that my team probably could have won a national championship that year if I didn’t get hurt. We lost the game I got hurt, we were winning, the next two drives were touchdowns and we didn’t have a nose guard. Then later in the season we were facing Oregon, they ran all over us and we didn’t have a nose guard in the middle. A lot of them stepped up, I mean Solomon Thomas, he’s incredible, he played nose guard that year at 260 pounds and did a great, great job. But imagine if we could’ve had him at defensive end. It was just so hard not to be out there with the guys I love, and the seniors that went out.

Did you pick up any hobbies that you had to master, while you weren’t able to play football?

Well, I’m a Christian, and so I got into the Bible a lot more that year. I’d read it before, I wanted to get through it with a highlighter and a pen, so I went through it a little more.