CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For most of his career, senior wide receiver Cam Phillips has been overshadowed.
Even starting as a true-freshman, Isaiah Ford stole the show. Ford continued to shine for the next two seasons, while tight end/hybrid Bucky Hodges also garnered national attention for his gaudy stats. Cam Phillips was part of the supporting cast, because so many defenses we’re focusing on stopping Ford and Hodges.
This year, that’s no longer the case. Phillips is the star, and everyone knows it.
“It’ll be interesting to see how people perceive him,” said Head Coach Justin Fuente. “It’s up to how they want to play him. If they’re going to put two people on him, then it might be a bit limited. We’ll see if that happens. It certainly would help if you have multiple guys that can scare people.”
Phillips, who was no slouch in his first three seasons, really struck gold in the latter half of 2017. He caught three touchdowns in his final five games, racking up 40 receptions for 432 yards. Phillips played key roles in Virginia Tech’s win over Notre Dame in November, and was named Belk Bowl Most Valuable Player after slicing up Arkansas’ defense.
Still, Phillips flew under the radar. Virginia Tech had three weapons last year that could fire at any moment, even if Ford and Hodges garnered most of the spotlight.
“I just thought of Cam as the slot,” Fuente said. “I thought of Isaiah as the boundary receiver. I didn’t really compare them, they were different. We found ways to get Cam the ball, obviously statistically, and we found ways to get Isaiah the ball. They’re similar in the fact that, and I’m really happy I get to say this a lot at Virginia Tech, they’re really smart. You can move them anywhere, you can play Isaiah anywhere you want, you can play Cam anywhere you want, he can coach young guys up, they just have another level of understanding of what’s going on.”
Phillips mentioned how much he looked up to Ford, who he felt outworked him at some moments.
“He taught me — first off, he definitely pushed me, pushed me to be better, you know, all the things that he did, made the contested catches, was in the spotlight kind of,” Phillips said. “But I think how he worked away from the cameras, away from everyone, what the people didn’t see was more important. Me and him worked out together, just so we could one day gain the recognition and just the respect of our peers and our coaches and fellow players, and that’s something that I’ll always remember.”
With Ford and Hodges gone, it’s Phillips’ offense now. He’s playing the lead part on offense, alongside offensive lineman Wyatt Teller. He and Teller are the most experienced players on the offensive side of the ball, and both have taken ownership of the offense.
“I always felt like I would be in this position,” Phillips said. “It’s funny, because I like being to myself, like practice what I say, like to guys getting them riled up for a game… I’m having fun with it actually. I love the leadership role, that guys respect me enough because of the hard work I’ve put in. Even the coaches, that they trust me to put me in this position, so I can go out and lead our players.”
In order to be the man, you have to look like the man. Phillips took that statement literally last week at ACC Kickoff, shifting attention from football questions to wardrobe style. Phillips showed up in a bronze “velvet double-breasted jacket”, with flip-up glasses. Phillips mentioned that he looked to the character of Dwayne Wayne from “A Different World” for his inspiration.
“I just like to have fun with stuff like this,” Phillips said. “I think it’s a way to show my personality, show fans, other players how kind of a laid-back and fun, cool guy I am. I’m having a great time at this event.”
Phillips likely won’t be laid back on the field. He’s got something to prove — he’s a worthy headliner in his own right.
“I’m really confident in his ability to be a good player,” Fuente said of Phillips. “The biggest thing is, to me, that those two guys, particularly Isaiah, made a lot of contested catches. Cam, playing in the slot last year, maybe didn’t have as many of those opportunities… but he had plenty of opportunities to catch balls. As he works outside, there’s going to be more of those contested catches, and him making those plays I think is a challenge.”
“The offense’s job is to score points,” Phillips said. “With me being a vital part of the offense, I’m going to make sure everyone is on their P’s and Q’s, making sure they execute, making sure practice runs smoothly, to understand we have a job to do every Saturday. And not just every Saturday, but every day of the week.”