There’s nothing quite like the first time your newborn son evacuates all over a wall at 2 a.m. This is what Andy Phillips is currently dealing with. So no, a little crowd noise at the Rose Bowl or a little rain at the Big House isn’t really going to rattle him, thank you very much.
As Utah’s kicker grows into fatherhood – his son Maximus is now seven weeks old – he’s learned to put the things that matter in life into perspective. While his football career can be high-pressure/high-stress, it's -- for lack of a better pun -- child's play compared to the responsibilities he has at home.
“I’m only seven weeks into it, but nothing fazes me,” said Phillips, 25. “Whether it’s poop all over the walls or pee everywhere or waking up at 2 a.m. to give him a bottle, there is nothing more demanding than taking care of a child. I get to football and it reminds me how blessed I am to have an opportunity to play this sport. My wife, my family are all so supportive.”
By now, most people who follow the Pac-12 have heard the tale of how Phillips, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team, became Utah’s kicker despite any previous football experience. After several video exchanges with former special-teams coordinator Jay Hill (now the head coach at Weber State), Phillips was invited to camp as a walk-on. He sent videos to every school in the state, but Utah was the only program that bit. Good call, Utah.
“He’s a great weapon for us,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s a big contributor for us week in and week out. He’s not your typical kicker.”
Indeed. Phillips was skiing competitively at 5 and internationally by 12. He was racing in Europe by 15 and at 17 he was named to the U.S. team, where he spent five years.
That competitive drive is alive and well on the football field. He ranks among the nation’s best kickers in almost every category and his field-goal accuracy has earned him the nickname “Automatic Andy.” He’s 13 of 15 overall and 9 of 11 from 40-plus yards. He ranks sixth in the nation in scoring at 10.8 points per game.
But it’s more than field goals. More often than not you’ll see Phillips flying down the field trying to make the tackle on kickoffs. A lot of kickers talk that talk, but few back it up. Here’s an example of Phillips backing it up.
“I don’t like to shy away from contact,” Phillips said. “I’ve got pads and a helmet on for a reason. I might as well use them. I’m an aggressive safety. If there’s a hole that opens up, it’s my job to fill that hole. I like to get in there and knock people around a little bit.”
He also knows his limitations. Kicking was the obvious choice, having grown up with a soccer background. Yet Whittingham said if Phillips wasn’t a kicker, there are several other positions he could play, simply based on his athleticism.
“I have to temper him and tell him to stay back and be the safety guy,” Whittingham said. “He would love to go in and get in the mix.”
Phillips isn’t cocky enough to think he could just stroll in and start playing, for instance, linebacker.
“Not growing up with the sport and competing at this level, I understand there are so many instinctual things these guys learn growing up with the sport,” Phillips said. “No one can jump in and be a ski racer at 18 or 19 because there are so many things you learn growing up, you can’t learn it all in a year. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what a linebacker has to learn his whole life or what a running back has to learn.
“… With my ski racing background, I learned my whole life how to be mentally tough. How to handle pressure situations. How to adapt to uncomfortable situations. I think that gives me a huge advantage in the kicking game.”
And that athleticism allows him to do something most other kickers can’t – the one-man onside kick, which he pulled off against UCLA a couple of weeks ago. It started as an idea he and Hill came up with last year. Phillips worked on it for a week before trying it live in practice.
“We did it 15 times and I was able to recover it all 15 times without failure,” Phillips said.
Added Whittingham: “He’s not the first guy we’ve tried it with, but he’s the best guy at it, without a doubt.”
The Utes have a critical Pac-12 South showdown this weekend with USC coming to town. Then again, from here on out they are all critical as the Utes look to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2011. They move forward with the confidence knowing they’ve got one of the best kickers in the country on their side.
“If you strive to the be the best at everything you do in life, whether that’s school, golf, religion, soccer or football, all of those translate to one another,” Phillips said. “If I’m in a pressure situation in football, if that’s something I’ve faced in another aspect of my life, I’m going to be able to overcome it.”