Kenny Phillips is in his fifth season with the Giants. The team’s first-round draft choice in 2008, he has been a fixture in the secondary since his arrival and a starter since his second year. At Carol High School in Miami, Phillips was regarded as the best safety prospect in the country. He played three seasons at the University of Miami, where he was the school’s ninth safety earn All-America honors. The Giants selected him with the 31st overall selection of the 2008 draft. He was the first safety selected by the Giants in the first round of the NFL Draft since Shaun Williams in 1998.Q: Did you grow up in Miami?
Phillips: “I was born and raised in Miami, by Carol City. I’ve spent my whole life in Miami. Never (lived) outside of Miami. I went to high school there.”Q: Do you have brothers and sisters?
Phillips: “I have one younger brother, who is two years younger than me. He was playing at Florida International. He’s about to graduate now from there.” Q: Is it fair to assume that since you’re both athletes, you were competitive with each other?
Phillips: “We’re both athletes, but we both play on defense, so it’s not like he’s on offense and I’m on defense. We’re competitive, but at the same time have a great relationship.” Q: Are you named after your dad?
Phillips: “Funny story. My name is Phillips. My dad’s name is Wilson, my mom is Wilson, my brother’s Wilson. But at the time I was born, my mom’s name was Phillips. They weren’t married, so they gave me her last name. Then they got married, so everybody in the house is a Wilson. But I’m still a Phillips.” Q: Well, that’s a little odd.
Phillips: “Yeah, it’s weird. Everyone calls my parents Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, because they think that’s their last name. But it’s actually Wilson. Q: How old were you when they got married?
Phillips: “I was in high school. I thought about changing my name, but he knows I’m his first son, his junior, so I didn’t figure I needed to go through all of that. I have his first and his middle names, just not the last.” Q: What did your dad do when you grew up?
Phillips: “He drives a bus, the metro bus. And my mom, she was a postal worker, but now she’s retired.” Q: Did you play sports all the time when you were growing up?
Phillips: “I was likely to playing football. Basketball, as a young person I wasn’t really into it because I didn’t really know how to play. I actually played it in high school. I wasn’t a great basketball player; all I did was play defense and get rebounds, so that was about it. Couldn’t dribble, couldn’t really shoot, but I scored points somehow.” Q: And how old were you when you started playing?
Phillips: “I was eight. I wanted to play before then, but my mom didn’t let me. She was always scared I was going to get hurt playing football. My dad finally convinced her to let me play, so I started when I was eight.” Q: Once she let you play, did you immediately like football?
Phillips: “Oh yeah, it was fun. My first year I played receiver. I enjoyed it, I really did. I played receiver and defensive end.” Q: Defensive end?
Phillips: “It was pretty cool. My first year I won a trophy, the Bruce Smith Award. I liked playing end. Receiver, not so much. I also played a little quarterback. You play some of everything when you were in little league.” Q: Did you follow the NFL when you were young? Were you a Dolphins fan?
Phillips: “My whole family was (Florida) Gator fans, Dolphin fans. Me, I never was a fan of any team. I didn’t have a favorite team. I just liked the certain players.” Q: Who were some your favorite players?
Phillips: “For some reason I like Shannon Sharpe and Deion Sanders. Those were really the only two.” Q: Carol City is a pretty renowned football high school. Were you on great teams throughout your high school career?
Phillips: “We lost a little. Not much. My junior year we actually went to the championship game. My senior year we were one game away from the championship. Our coach was Walt Frazier. He’s a great coach, a really disciplined coach, and that’s kind of where I got it as far as being disciplined.” Q: Was he disciplined like Tom Coughlin is disciplined?
Phillips: “To be honest with you he was sort of like Tom.” Q: When you were in high school, some of the scouting services rated you as the best safety in the United States. How did that make you feel?
Phillips: “It felt good, but I never read into it. My family wouldn’t let me. My coaches wouldn’t let me. They never treated me special. They treated me just like a normal guy. It never really got to me, but it felt good at the same time knowing that they’re saying you’re this great guy, you possibly can go to any college you want to and play in the bowl games and things like that like. I got invited to the U.S. Army Bowl, which was a nice experience.” Q: Did you feel like with your physical ability that high school football was easy for you?
Phillips: “I wouldn’t say easy, but it wasn’t hard. I was just having fun. In high school, I didn’t look at colleges, I never thought, ‘Okay, I’m playing football to get a scholarship.’ I was just playing football because I like playing football. I didn’t start thinking about college until maybe my junior year. I started getting letters and stuff like that I was like, ‘Okay, maybe I’ll get a scholarship.’ But for the first few years I was just having fun. I was playing ball.” Q: Where you a good student?
Phillips: “I was a great student. My GPA was about 3.7 in high school. Yeah, I was a great student.” Q: Did you like school?
Phillips: “I can’t lie and say I liked it, but I did what I had to do as far as the work and the tests and everything.” Q: Well, a 3.7 is doing more than you had to do.
Phillips: “I studied when I had to study and did the projects when I had to do them. I never was a fan of just sitting in class. I’ve never been that guy.”Q: Did you visit other colleges or did you know you wanted to stay home and go to Miami?
Phillips: “I visited other schools. I visited N.C. State. I visited Tennessee, and those were the only two schools before I went to Miami that I was really considering. It was between Miami and Tennessee. They kind of basically were saying the same thing, so it came down to just being close to home, so I just stayed there.” Q: You never considered the Gators at all?
Phillips: “I didn’t at all. I don’t know why, but I just never considered those guys.” Q: How do you look back on your time at Miami?
Phillips: “I had a great time in Miami. Just being from home and there were a lot of guys already on that team from home, from Miami, so it was almost like a big brotherhood. As a freshman when you’re going to practice and you’re walking around, you get to see guys like Ed Reed that are coaching you up. That did it for me. I made the right decision. You got guys like Benny Blades coaching you up on the sideline and just coming back teaching you, because they want to see you do well. That was great for me.” Q: Miami has had nine All-America safeties. It must make you proud to be part of such an impressive tradition.
Phillips: “It’s great. I feel like It’s an honor and its definitely something that you want to be considered, something that you want to work for. You want to continue to work so you can be mentioned like those guys. They’re all great players. Ed, Sean (Taylor), Brandon (Meriweather) - they called it ‘Safety U’ at one time, so you have some big shoes to fill. But at the same time it’s an honor.” Q: A lot of NFL players from Miami return to the school to work out in the offseason. Do you do that?
Phillips: “I do. I don’t go back as much because of where I stay, but for the most part I go back and I still keep in contact with those guys once they’re in the league and even the guys that are there now.” Q: Give me a play or a game from your career at Miami that stands out to you.
Phillips: “We got into a brawl with the Florida International school, and half our team got suspended. So the coaches came to me and they actually wanted me to play corner in the next game, against Duke. They wanted me to come play a little bit of corner, so I was going from corner to safety, corner to safety. I wind up getting a pick at corner and two picks at safety. It was a real big game and I just felt great about it just, because I had to step into that role and I kind of lifted up the team.” Q: When during your time at Miami did you start to think about the NFL?
Phillips: “Right away. As a junior in high school I started to think about colleges. Once I became a senior in high school I said, ‘I’m going to do three (seasons in college) and out.’ That was just my mindset. I said, ‘I’m going to go to Miami, I’m going to do three years, and I’m leaving.’ I said I was going to graduate in three years and I was going to go into the league. My freshman year, our starting safety (Anthony Reddick) got hurt the first game of the season. He tore his ACL. I was actually playing behind him and he tore his ACL the first game of the season and the coaches threw me in there and I never looked back. I was a starter the next three years, and it worked out.” Q: And did you graduate in three years?
Phillips: “I’m maybe at 12 or 18 hours away from graduating.” Q: What’s your major?
Phillips: “Sports administration.” Q: Did you have any idea prior to the draft how high or where you would go?
Phillips: “I think at the beginning of the season they were saying maybe top 15 pick, top 20, whatever, but you never know how the draft works, so I never read too much into it. I just finished the season. I thought I had a pretty good season but as a team we didn’t. I think we won five games, and I felt like the program wasn’t where I needed it to be for me to stay. I felt like we were getting younger, we still had a lot of guys that needed to do some new learning so I figured if I was going to leave then I might as well leave now, when I’m the top safety in the draft. So I just came out.” Q: Where were you on draft day?
Phillips: “We were at a hotel on South Beach. My family, a lot of family friends gathered around and I didn’t even wake up until it was late. I had a good time that night, so I actually didn’t wake up until they were on pick four or five. I watched until maybe pick 20 and then I stopped watching the draft.”Q: Were you watching when your name came up?
Phillips: “Nope. I stopped watching after pick 20. I walked around the hotel, went to the pool, just relaxed and then I didn’t even know what round it was in when I got the call – I think it was Coach Coughlin or Mr. (Jerry) Reese that called me - and they said what they said, and the family went crazy, so it was a great feeling.” Q: Your rookie year you got to play all 16 games. As you look back now was the jump from college to the NFL harder than you thought? Was it easier? Was it what you expected?
Phillips: “I don’t think it was harder, I just think it was different just because there were so many games. At Week 13 I was ready to go home. I really was. We were winning, we were doing well, but I was just tired of playing football. I wanted to go home. That was probably one of the biggest differences, because I wasn’t a starter right away. I played behind Butts (James Butler) which when I look back now as a good thing, because I got a chance to learn from Butler and Michael Johnson. I think the coaches made the right decision keeping me in that role.”