Horrible Harry wreaking havoc in the NFL

Former Wildcat currently in his third year with the Buffalo Bills organization

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Photo by Bill Wippert

Buffalo Bills defensive tackle and former Millard West football player Harrison Phillips celebrating after a nice play. He has recorded a total of 40 tackles in his first three seasons with the Bills. “You got 90 guys out there competing for only 53 spots,” Phillips said. “Starting in May each year, guys are going really hard and competing to try and earn those spots.”

By Jonathan Willis, Millard West High School

It’s been almost three years since Buffalo Bills defensive tackle and former Millard West football player Harrison Phillips heard his name called in the NFL draft. The Wildcat alum remembers his time vividly playing at Millard West and what being at this school helped him accomplish. 

Even though Phillips is in the NFL now, he has never forgotten about his old high school. Over his high school career, he had 175 tackles and 35 sacks. He also won the Nebraska Gatorade Football Player of the Year in his senior year. 

“Harrison had an unbelievable motor, he always trained, practiced and played with the end goal in his mind,” head football coach Kirk Peterson said. “He’s a great resource for me in keeping me updated on how he’s being coached. That’s probably the neatest thing about Harrison, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from.”

Phillips was very involved during his time at Millard West. He was an Iron Cat which is the term Millard West uses for student athletes that compete in three different sports. Phillips played football, wrestling and track. He won the state championship in both his junior and senior year in wrestling and broke the school record for takedowns. The things he was able to accomplish and how involved he was prepared him to take that next step into college and eventually the NFL. 

“There is no doubt he was a Division 1 wrestler, but football was his true love and passion,” head wrestling coach Scott Townsley said. “He was very athletic and smart when it came to wrestling. It has been fun to be able to see him play, but more importantly how much he has been willing to give back to his community.”

In 2019, Phillips held his first football camp in Omaha for younger kids to help them learn the basics of the sport. It took place at Collins Field in Omaha and had people from Bellevue West, Millard West, Millard South and Omaha South. Phillips also comes during each summer to do his offseason workouts at Millard West. He continues to visit during the off season when he can to try and stay connected to the Omaha community. 

Phillips’ time at Stanford was also a huge part in getting him to the NFL. After not playing much his freshman and sophomore year due to an ACL injury in 2015, Phillips dominated the Pac-12. He had 46 tackles and seven sacks as a junior and 103 tackles with 7.5 sacks as a senior. He made the All-Pac-12 first team, and got an invite to the 2018 Senior Bowl. He solidified himself as one of the top defensive tackles in that 2018 draft. 

Along with Phillips being a great athlete, he was also top of his class academically and continued that to college where he earned Pac-12 All-academic First Team honors. He graduated Stanford with a double major in sociology, technology and society, and a minor in education. 

“Balancing my academics and athletics was definitely challenging,” Phillips said. “I probably bit off a bit more than I could chew. I wasn’t able to really build relationships with the professors and didn’t really have a social life, but I was really dedicated to my craft and all that hard work paid off.” 

Phillips was able to graduate early and declared for the NFL draft. Even though this is his third year in the NFL, the draft day in 2018 is still a memory he remembers vividly. He went into the draft ranked fourth among all defensive tackles and was projected to be a late first or early second round pick. 

“It was super stressful seeing social media talking about my potential to possibly be drafted in the first round,” Phillips said. “When guys were being picked ahead of me, it was a horrible feeling. Then, the phone rang, and I completely forgot about the whole day and that bad feeling, and it was immediately just a flutter of emotions. For it to actually happen, that was one of the best days of my life.”

The Bills took him in the third round as the 96th overall pick, and Phillips finally fulfilled his dream of making it to the NFL. The change in scenery for Phillips hasn’t been that different than what he has been used to. Buffalo has welcomed him with open arms, and he has loved being part of the Bills organization. 

“The area of Buffalo is actually very similar to Omaha,” Phillips said. “There’s genuine people and not a whole lot to do. I’ve fit in very well in this community and really enjoy my teammates. We’re very close as a team, and I would love it if I was able to play my entire career here with the Bills.” 

Ever since he got to Buffalo, his goal has been to do anything he can to help his team be successful. It’s been an up and down start to his NFL career due to the ACL injury he had in 2019. In his rookie year in 2018, he played all 16 games and had 35 total tackles with a fumble recovery. In 2019, he only played three games due to the ACL injury and ever since then he has been working on getting back to where he wants to be. Even though he is not directly dealing with the ACL injury, the coaches have been cautious with him this season, and he hasn’t seen the field a whole bunch. He is looking forward to getting back to full health so he can get out there and help his team. 

“I had to have double knee surgery after this ACL injury so I have been doing the recovery process in both knees,” Phillips said. “It’s been a mental trial more than a physical trial. I’ve worked myself to tears to try and get back, and I’m a firm believer that God has a plan and so whatever is supposed to happen will.” 

The Bills are doing very well this season, and Phillips is looking forward to playing in more games this season as they try to make a deep playoff run. Millard West wishes Harrison the best of luck as he continues his journey through the NFL.

This story was originally published on The Catalyst on December 8, 2020.