It took 124 years for Virginia Tech to officially produce a 1,000-yard receiver.
Now, the Hokies could have three over a three-year span. Cam Phillips believes he can get there in 2017, and so does his coach. If it happens, Phillips’ name would appropriately go right next to former teammate Isaiah Ford, who became the first to hit the elusive mark in 2015 and did it again last season.
With Ford now gone to the NFL, Phillips is the lone standout remaining on a Virginia Tech offense looking for playmakers to emerge alongside him. So it makes sense that Phillips would be next in line for a shot at 1,000 yards.
Plus, Phillips almost seems due. He finished behind Ford last season with a career-high 983 yards, as he also hit career highs in average (12.9 yards per catch) and touchdowns (five) in the more wide-open offense coach Justin Fuente brought with him to the Hokies.
“He deserves it,” Fuente said. “Obviously, he’s got to go out and make those plays, but he’s going to get plenty of opportunities this year not only because of the trust level we have in him, but because the other guys are going to be a little bit less experienced. I hope he’s able to do it. I would wish that for him.”
As the veteran in the receiver group, Phillips has got the basics down pat. What Fuente wants to see is more consistency.
“He would probably tell you that he should have had over 1,000 yards last year and that maybe he could have made a couple of plays but when it comes down to it,” Fuente said. "My hope for him is when he’s put in some of those chances to make contested catches that he comes down with the ball. I know he’s going to get open at times, and we’re going to do things to get him the ball, but there are also going to be times when he’s going to need to make contested catches and I’m hopeful that he’s ready and can pull through.”
With Ford and Bucky Hodges gone from the offense, there is a deep drop in returning production beyond Phillips. C.J. Carroll ranks next among returning players, with 18 catches for 258 yards. Next? Henri Murphy (three catches, 29 yards). Younger players such as Eric Kumah and Kalil Pimpleton have emerged as important keys this spring.
Phillips is right there helping them out, embracing his new role as a more vocal leader.
“The biggest thing for those guys would be to just try to calm the nerves and play,” Phillips said recently. “There are new things they’re going to have to get used to, but ultimately football is football. Sometimes you get impatient and try to do too much. I try to tell those guys everyone messes up, even me, and just try to bounce back and relax. The coaches are on them because they see the potential they have.”
It is the same thing coaches saw in him and Ford when they both arrived in the Class of 2014. Both played right away as true freshmen, earning roles in a receiver group that needed players to step up quickly. It had essentially been the trio of Ford, Hodges and Phillips as the main playmakers for the last three years.
With Phillips the only one remaining, much has changed around him. But expectations are no different. Nor is the quest to reach 1,000 yards.
“I don’t put any limits on myself or what I can do, what I’m aiming for above and beyond regardless of what anyone thinks I can do,” Phillips said. “I like having people tell me I’m not good enough or I can’t do this or something like that. But 1,000 yards, that’s not really my main goal. If the opportunities come and the result is 1,000 yards or 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns or so, then that’s great. But I want to be a great leader for my team and do the best I can to help us win any way that the coaches ask me to.”