Harrison Phillips sounds very Stanford.
The defensive tackle talks about piling up challenging 20-plus hour semesters because so many different classes interest him. He talks about adding a minor in education because he was on an academic track to graduate early. Post-football? Well, there are just so many possibilities, such as venture capital and coaching and teaching and, he added, “I have a private equity internship lined up this summer.”
Phillips, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound senior, also sounds very Stanford because he says things like this when asked if he prefers playing inside or outside on the Cardinal D-line, “I hate to say this because you often want to take the path of least resistance but I do enjoy the violence and the quickness that comes with playing inside."
Phillips also can -- if he chooses and it seems like he might -- participate in the reigniting of a Stanford tradition that fell off last year: Being annoyed.
Last year, breaking a 56-year tradition of not doing so, Pac-12 media picked Stanford to win the Pac-12/10/8 title. It didn't. It won 10 games and finished ranked 12th, but it was pretty much out of the conference race before the calendar flipped into November.
That sort of preseason esteem wasn't present in 2015, 2013 and 2012 when Stanford won the conference title, and Cardinal players and coaches seemed to relish the inaccuracy of the putative experts during those seasons. There was, in fact, a glorious if sometimes understated tradition during Stanford's rise to national prominence of players such as Richard Sherman, Chase Thomas, Ben Gardner, Michael Rector and even Kevin Hogan inserting into their postgame remarks subtle (and not so subtle) pokes at their media doubters.
The media doubt is back. While Stanford is certain to be ranked in the preseason top-25, the national Pac-12 narrative will begin with USC and then pass to Washington before Stanford is noted. Folks will point to questions at quarterback, sundry issues on both sides of the ball as well as to huge voids left by departed superstars like running back Christian McCaffrey and defense end Solomon Thomas, both potential first-round NFL draft picks.
Phillips acknowledges the possibility of re-emergent smirks and harrumphs inside the locker room but he also says the plan is to keep that grumbling inside those hallowed walls. Mostly.
“That’s something we keep internal," he said. "We know people only ride our back when we’re 8-0. As soon as we get a loss by one point or whatever, everybody falls off. They all run away very quickly."
Well, the 2016 season featured a bit more than a one-point loss or two. Stanford was dismantled on consecutive weeks by Washington and Washington State by a combined count of 86-22. Then, after dispatching Notre Dame, it lost 10-5 in extra innings at home to Colorado, the Stanford offense wallowing in mire of awful.
Things looked pretty bleak at 4-3, but then Stanford reeled off six consecutive wins, reignited after Keller Chryst took over at quarterback and, it must be noted, after the schedule eased up significantly.
“We went through a gauntlet those first [seven] games," Phillips said. “We came together at the end. I think that fire was enough to spark us for this entire offseason. We have just enough of a sour taste in our mouths from those losses but we also have a feeling of what it felt like to be victorious, to be Sun Bowl champs and win all those games at the end of the season. So we kind of have the Yin and the Yang to use as motivation.”
Phillips, honorable mention All-Pac-12 last year, will now be the lead dog on the Cardinal defensive front, and it will be interesting to see how he is used. A natural tackle or 3-technique, he's capable of playing directly over the center or even becoming an edge-rusher at end. Last year, he finished with 45 tackles, nine tackles for a loss and six sacks while mostly stuck in the hurly-burly of the interior line.
He's a "Do your job!" sort of player who graded highly for his technique and blocker-eating last year, but he admits that he wouldn't mind a few more of “those flash plays," as he calls them.
He's already a double-major (sociology and science, technology and society) with that education minor. Picking up a few more sacks and tackles for a loss after Thomas' departure while fomenting that Stanford "Chip on the Shoulder" mentality shouldn't be too much of an added burden.