Student-Athlete Profile: Amari Phillips
Name: Amari Phillips
Position: Middle Linebacker
1. When did you start playing this sport? What got you interested in the sport?
There is a pretty funny backstory for this: I was introduced to football by my stepfather in 2nd grade. He loves football, and he understood that I was an outgoing and energetic kid, so he’d always throw the football around with me
One day in the summer, we were throwing the football around when a bee came. My sister and step-dad started freaking out. I was like, “Where’s the bee? Where's the bee?”
He said, “It's behind you!” So I sprinted into the house, and then he was like, “Oh my God he’s so fast, we have to put him in football.” From there, I just started playing. Being a kid with a bunch of energy, it clicked. I was a competitive kid with everything: math multiplication problems in school to being the first in line to sports in general.
So from second grade on, it was history?
Yeah, in second grade I started flag football and then in fourth grade I started tackle football.
What’s the transition like? There’s a difference between grabbing a flag and full-on tackling someone, right?
Oh, for me- my family loves joking about it all the time. My transition wasn't hard at all because I was kinda tackling kids early! I was very physical. While grabbing flags, I'd accidentally tackle kids, and I was pretty big for a six-year-old. When they put pads on me, I just started running into kids. It just worked out.
I know a lot of people talk about Sunday-Night football and that’s what got them interested, but for you it was more of the physical aspect?
Definitely, playing it, but also my step-dad watched football around me all the time. He was a Saints fan; he introduced me to football and then I became a Saints fan! It was that connection with my stepfather that really drove me into football.
2. What is your favorite part of playing this sport?
My favorite part about the sport is being with the team before the game; in the locker room, everyone gets locked-in and ready. Some people, like myself, like to just sit, listen to music, and visualize myself in the game. Whereas other people like to jump around and dance. Some people like to sleep; there’s people on the team that just sleep and wake up and then they’re ready! One of my favorite parts is seeing everyone get ready for the game and walk out onto the field together. Like a team. Like a family. We're all playing for each other, and I think that's the best part about football.
I find it funny that you just sit there.
Yeah, in the locker room, we turn the lights off. We have the speaker, and everyone just does their thing. I just sit there and think. We study the team, what they do. I think about what I have to do.
That reminds me a lot of a picture of Michael Phelps at one of the Olympics, and he has the headphones on, just staring straight forward.
Exactly, there’s a lot of pictures where you can find athletes just sitting there. You can tell their mind’s thinking about anything and everything. I like to think, visualize, then go out and play.
3. What’s your favorite moment in your football career? Is there anything that stands out to you?
I think one of my biggest accomplishments is being a recruited athlete! I got to see a lot of facilities and colleges. The main focus for my family and I was finding a great school academically and athletically. Our first locations of recruiting were the Ivy League and Patriot League. Ivy Leagues: as you know, Harvard and Yale. Patriot Leagues are really good academic schools, like Georgetown and Holy Cross.
Oh, drop the names of the schools you visited!
I took a visit to Holy Cross before my senior year started. I visited Georgetown, Brown, and Cornell. I also visited UPenn, which was just beautiful! I took a day trip to Vanderbilt, which is another great school in Tennessee. Then there's the NESCAC League, which they call Junior Ivys, which include Trinity, Hamilton, and Amherst. Other than that, there were several schools that I talked to that weren't as academically-selective. I was in brief contact with Bryant, Williams, Bentley, and Franklin Pierce. There were many schools, and as the recruiting went on, I was able to narrow down my decisions.
What criteria did you use to narrow them down?
You learn to narrow it down based on how much interest the school has in you and how much interest you have in the school. For instance, Vanderbilt is an amazing school and I loved everything about it. Distance isn't really a problem for me and my family, so I thought it was perfect. Transportation was good: there’s trains and an airport right near the campus. It would’ve been easy for me to come home when I needed to. However from the recruiting standpoint, they wanted me as a preferred walk-on, which means I would’ve had to get into the school on my own merit, through my grades and extracurriculars. If I did get into the school, then there would’ve been a spot on the team reserved for me. Whereas with normal recruiting, like Trinity, they were like, “We want you. If you commit to us, we're going to get you into the school. We’re going to make sure your financial aid works for you, because we want you.” From that point, it went into what works best for us.
Distance-wise: Trinity is about an hour drive, so my family can come support me. Near the end of my recruiting process, I felt it wasn’t fair to my family, who’ve done so much for me, to not be able to come to my games.
As for my major: Bentley was a great school. They really liked me, and I talked with the coach several times. He always watched our game and was an all-around great guy. But Bentley’s a business school, and I wanted to go into the medical field. So unfortunately, it didn't work out. I wouldn't want to go to a business school and study a random business major - that's not what I want to do.
Trinity checked a lot of boxes. The campus was beautiful. They have a 5-year master's program for Neuroscience, which is perfect. Their football team is competitive, and their coaches are all amazing. It just made sense to me at that point.
So what really sealed the deal for you?
I think the biggest thing that really sealed the deal for me was taking an official visit, which is when you get to spend the night at the college. A bunch of other recruits and I were each assigned a freshman, who became our mentors. We got to meet the team and find out what a day at Trinity is like. It was an amazing experience. I got to meet and talk to a lot of people. It was the weekend before their midterms, so you got to see what the campus is like when it's crunch time, when a lot of people are doing school work. But at the same time, we got a taste of what it's like the week before college starts, with everyone moving in and experiencing the social life. Spending the night definitely gave me a good idea of what Trinity was like, and I really enjoyed it. It was when I was nearing the end of my recruiting and narrowing down the list. What stopped me from a lot of the Ivies was my freshman year grades, because they were a little bit below what they were looking for, so I stopped talking to a lot of them. They said, “We’ll definitely recruit you, but it's going to be a reach. It's a 50/50 with the admission.”
Oh, so it wasn’t a sure thing? Because there isn’t that perfect communication between the admissions office and the coaches.
There was still a lot of risk when it came to me actually getting into the school.
And you wanted a sure thing.
Yeah, exactly. With deadlines for recruiting, they ask you to apply Early Decision.
Oh, so it locks you in!
Exactly. When you commit to a school, that's the school committing to you as well, which is why they ask you for Early Decision- so they know you’re committed just as much as they are. Talking to a lot of people at Trinity, doing research about the five-year Neuro path, it just made sense after a while. I applied Early Decision 2 for Trinity, so I’ll get my letter hopefully soon, like next week!
You have to apply Early Decision 2, and I missed the ED 1 deadline. Some schools don’t have Early Decision 2. If you're committed, do Early Decision 2! If I didn’t apply ED2, I might not have gotten it. It was definitely time-sensitive. I was informed by one of the coaches that they really wanted me and that I was their number-one choice. But there was always the, “BUT, you’re on a timeline. We need to know that you’re committed, because we have another batch of recruits. You’re our number-one guy, so we’re giving you the say. This is your offer, if you choose us, that’s it. We’re not bringing in those other recruits. But the longer you wait, maybe we'll pick another guy.”
At that point in my recruiting, it was between Trinity, Amherst, and Vanderbilt. As I said, Vanderbilt wanted me as a preferred walk-on, so I had to get in by myself and they're very competitive. So it was either take the risk of applying ED to Vanderbilt. If I get in, great- I'm on the team. If not, then I have nothing.
And that’s a gamble you wouldn’t want to take.
Exactly, there's no point in taking it. It’s a really great school, very prestigious. But so is Trinity. Trinity is a very good liberal arts school, with a great program I was interested in and very close.
So, you didn’t ED1 to any college because you were still figuring things out?
Yeah, there was no point in me doing ED1, because it would’ve shut down other routes of recruiting if I got in. ED 1 came during my football season, so my recruiting process had just started. Usually, you start in junior year, but I didn’t have a season junior year due to COVID. Junior year is usually the crunch-time; the scouts come and you go to their camps in the summer. I missed the season where the scouts come in, get to know you, then follow you into senior year when they already have you in mind and are just making sure you're still developing. That really shortened my timeline, since my coach didn't really reach out because all I had was sophomore film and that's me playing as a 15/16-year-old.
As soon as my coach saw that I was capable of playing at the college-level during my senior year after the first game, he started calling coaches. He did as much as he could. I was traveling almost every other day and talking to colleges. The timeline wasn't really in my favor…
But it all worked out anyway! :D
Yeah, it all worked out anyway! I'm so happy to be going to Trinity. I love the people, the coaches, the school. The campus is beautiful.
So during the overnight stay, did you attend classes, watch football practice, etc.?
It was after the season, so we just toured the athletic facility, looked at classrooms, and got food! At the end, we had meetings with our designated coach. Because I'm a linebacker, I met with the linebacker coach. After we met with the coaches, we had dinner and were assigned a freshman for the night.
4. What does it take to be a recruited athlete? What makes the difference between someone who can get recruited and someone who just plays a sport?
It takes a lot of commitment, and it has to be something you truly want. Obviously, there are people who are extremely gifted athletically, but there’s also a lot of people who aren’t. I know a lot of people who just work and work and work. Getting in the gym, trying to keep a diet (I struggle with the diet part, and definitely stretching too)! It's a year-round commitment, and the off-season is where you separate yourself from everyone else. It’s a lot of sacrifice and hard work.
Ah, so how much work have you put into the sport to get to this level? How often do you practice?
I’ve put a lot of work into football ever since fourth/fifth grade. I came from a Branford public school, and I was a leader on my team. It was clear that I put in a lot of work, which involved watching a lot of film of the other team. When you’re in 5th/6th grade football, it’s just for fun, but I started to take it really seriously because it was something that I knew I wanted to do. I made sure that I worked hard in practice and that everyone was working hard, because I can’t do it alone. I understand that I'm not a superhero and that we need a team with people that all want to win, all while having fun.
I would watch film for hours with my stepfather, and he would teach me what to look for: people's inconsistencies or hints on what they're planning to give me any sort of edge. As I learned more about football and as I played, my habit of watching film for hours and hours just continued to evolve; it's something I definitely take pride, because I think that when you watch film, you can understand what the other team likes to do and then when you play the game, it slows the game. Like if you know that they're going to run this way and you already know that, you have an extra step.
The more you know about your opponent, the better prepared you are for the game and the better prepared you are, the higher chance of winning.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future? You're recruited. You're going to be a part of the football team at Trinity. Is there anything beyond that?
I think as of now, I like to take it one step at a time. Being a recruited athlete at Trinity is obviously one of the greatest accomplishments I've ever made in my life, and I just want to make sure that I'm the best I can be. My first step freshman year is to be recognized by the entire coaching staff and get as much playing time as I can. Just learn the college-pace and how to balance being a student-athlete and be the best football player I can be.
Then as the years go on, I want to keep working and working and working for it, in hopes that another opportunity comes, whether that be at another larger school if that's what I want to do or maybe I love Trinity and I don't want to transfer. You never know. I just want to make sure that I'm doing my part to be the best version of myself on and off the field.
Photo Caption: Amari Phillips with Head Coach Linta at the 2021 Football Banquet, winning the First Team All-Conference Award (which he has previously won in his sophomore year), First Team All-NEPSAC Award, and First Team All-New England Award.
5. What do you think you could improve on and why?
It would probably be my consistency. I’m definitely consistent in terms of my love for the game, coming to practice, and working out. But I want to be more consistent with daily things, like my diet and the amount I stretch. I know those are two things that you only see results over time. You can’t stretch one time then be flexible! You have to commit to it and you might not see results for weeks or months, so it's definitely something that I'm working on every day.
6. Who’s your favorite athlete and why?
Demario Davis: he’s a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints. He's my favorite because obviously he plays linebacker the way I do, but he's just a great leader on the team. The Saints’ defense struggled a lot, but after they brought him in, the whole atmosphere changed and they started to be very successful. The way he talks to his teammates and leads by example; he always speaks to the team before the game and tries to amp them up or just say a few words. Maybe it’s not an amp-up day; it’s more like “we’ve got to get this done.” But he's just an amazing leader, and he does work off the football field. He's a big part of his community, so he's someone I aspire to be and look up to. He has a lot of energy and passion when he plays, and I definitely try to replicate that.
7. What are your favorite qualities in a teammate?
On the serious side, I like a teammate that has the same desire to play at the next level as I do. There's a lot of people on our football team that really want to be good at football, but then there's some people who want to be the best version of themselves and play at the next level. I really appreciate that in a teammate, because they have that same drive and ambition that pushes them to work hard. It's a chain reaction: when people see them working hard, they’ll question themselves, “Why am I not working that hard?” and it energizes everyone to work hard.
On a more light-hearted side, I like people with energy! As I said before, I lock in on game day. I’m like “Don't talk to me. I'll probably yell at you for some reason”, and I'm in my zone. There's a couple people on the team who are great teammates that will just bump me a little, laugh, or make jokes. They're light-hearted, but they also know when to be serious. They’re chill, laid-back, and love to be there.
8. What do you do to celebrate a big win/achievement? Any rituals? What did you do after committing to Trinity? Any fun things?
When I committed to Trinity, I was only with my family and it was a family moment. When you know what college is interested in you, the ball is in your court. So if I say yes to this college, I know that it’s going to be a sure thing. When I made that decision for Trinity, it felt amazing and we celebrated by going out to eat.
What about just after the game?
I don’t know- we're just happy! We've had a lot of close games this season, and some of them shouldn't have been close. Sometimes before we play a game, teams will try to get in our heads. There’s a lot of times when people on other teams will try to get in your head in creative ways, such as by reaching out to you on social media before the game. It brings tension and makes the game more competitive, with a lot more talking throughout the game. It's all part of the fun; there’s never any super beef, but it just makes the game more fun. Then after we win, we all get into the locker and the coaches bring energy. The music is loud, and we jump around, dance, and just have fun!
Especially during away games, it’s fun knowing that you traveled all the way to their school, you played in front of their fans, and you beat them after they talked junk and played a little dirty! It feels great knowing that you overcame adversity throughout the game and just winning with people who got injured, like were hit in the leg, but still played for the team.
9. That covers about everything! Are there any last words you’d like to say? Maybe words of encouragement or advice?
My biggest piece of advice is to trust yourself and know what you really want to do. There were a lot of people throughout my recruiting visits that tried to sway me one way. You have to trust yourself, trust how you feel, and try not to be persuaded. But you also have to know when to trust someone and when to trust yourself. For example, Ms. Carlson was a huge part of my recruiting process in terms of the academic side, and she was someone I really trusted when she said, “This school is easy for you, and I think you can get into a more competitive school” or also being honest with “This school is going to be a reach.” My football coach was connecting me with a lot of people and telling me about each campus. But also maybe after I saw the campus, I didn't really like it and didn’t see myself there for 4 years. If you have any doubts, “maybe”, or “I guess”, it’s not the school for you. You really have to love the school, and Trinity was a school that I loved and didn't have any doubts about. I told my step-dad when he picked me up from the official visit, “This is the school for me.” Rely on the people that know more, but also trust yourself.
*Some sentences have been paraphrased for clarity