On Guard: Phillips Stands Out Front for CMU

Andy Phillips
Sept. 10, 2014

By Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com - MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Time was, Andy Phillips just wanted to get on the football field in a Central Michigan uniform.

Now, it might take something along the lines of an act of Congress to get him off the field.

Phillips is a 6-foot-3, 306-pound CMU senior offensive lineman from Lansing, Mich. On Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium against Syracuse, he will start his 33rd consecutive game for CMU, the 29th at left guard.

The good-lineman ingredients, the list that every coach would peruse when assessing his men up front - those who remain largely anonymous yet are oh so critical to any football team's fortunes - always includes consistency and durability. It's every season, every game, every practice, every drill, every play, every weight-room session, every meeting.

"He's the most consistent player I've ever played with," said Nick Beamish, a junior center who has started 27 consecutive games alongside Phillips. "Every day he brings it, every day he's going 100 percent. I think he's going to be playing football for a long time because of that."

That bring-it-everyday attitude helped spark the interest of Chippewa coaches when Phillips was a two-time All-State linebacker at Waverly High School in Lansing, Mich. By the time he got to Mount Pleasant, his priorities were right where they should be, and Job No. 1 was simply to get on the field.

He was first slotted in as a defensive linemen at CMU, then a meeting with coach Dan Enos in spring ball between his freshman and redshirt freshman seasons changed everything.

"He said they were short on linemen at the time, especially centers, and he thought I was the kind of guy who could make the move," Phillips said, "and I'll do anything to help the team.
"He called me into his office for that meeting. I'll never forget the day. I think it was one of the best days of my life."

Midway through the 2011 season, Phillips, then a redshirt freshman, was starting at center. He hasn't missed a start since.

"Me, personally, I don't really care where I'm playing as long as I'm playing," Phillips said. "That's the goal of college football - play and win games."

Last season, Phillips, who carries a 3.05 grade point average, was named Second Team All-Mid-American Conference, received CMU's Offensive Upfront Player of the Year Award, and is this season on the Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List.

He is in his second season as a team captain, and he's helped paved the way as the Chippewas rushed for an average of 154.5 yards per game.

That yardage total ranks eighth in the Mid-American Conference, a spot which doesn't necessarily make one sit up and take note. But like a lot of things in life, it's not what but when, the timing of the Chippewa run game has been spot-on. They've run the ball quite effectively in the second half of both of their two wins, chewing up the clock while protecting the lead. And, most importantly, keeping the opposing offense off the field.

"We take a lot of pride in that," said Phillips, who is leading an offensive line that has paved the way for Thomas Rawls to roll up 276 yards, the second-best total among MAC ball carriers. "We know if we can give our backs a little bit of space - we've got a lot of good backs. If you're running the ball, you're controlling the game, and controlling the clock and that's because of our run game."

And much of that has to do with Phillips and his buddies up front.

"I expected us to be very good, and I still think we can get a lot better," Phillips said. "There's times we've got to pick up protections a little bit better and even in the run game, there's times we can do a little bit better. I think we're doing well, but I'm not going to say we're better than I expected us to be. There's no room to get complacent."

True. And if Andy Phillips were now, or ever were, complacent, he - and the 2014 Chippewas - likely wouldn't be where they are now, which is 2-0 for the first time in more than a decade.

The guy who simply wanted to get on the field a few short years ago is now the one to emulate.

"It's unbelievable the amount of maturity he's gotten physically and mentally," CMU offensive line coach Butch Barry said. "His toughness and his work ethic have been unbelievable and he's always been consistent in his play, in how he practices, and in his approach.

"He's got a lot of pride in his craft. He shows that `This is what it's like to be an offensive lineman; this is what you have to do is you want to be a really good offensive lineman.'"

Phillips had his own examples to follow. During his earlier days as a Chippewa, he played alongside Eric Fisher, the top pick in the 2013 NFL draft.

"The first time I stepped on the field, I thought I knew what I was doing," Phillips said. "Then you get out there and you realize there's some stuff you haven't seen.

"My freshman year, especially being on the defensive line the year before, it was all just trying to get used to it. Playing next to guys like Fisher and (Darren) Keyton in 2012, they really helped me with the game. And then from there on out ..."

It's the cyclical nature of college athletics. The young ones come in, the older ones indoctrinate and nurture (in the way that only football players, particularly offensive linemen, can).

The hope is it continues to perpetuate itself.

Leadership may be the most elusive, yet most critical, piece of the puzzle.

 "There's no question that the young guys, the older guys - everybody - they listen to him," Barry said of Phillips. "I wouldn't say it's like a father figure, more of the big brother. They respect what he's saying and if he's mad about something, if he's passionate about something, they know it's pretty important. I think that's the sign of a really good leader."

Phillips, to his credit, refuses to put himself above any of his brethren on the line. After all, there are no independent contractors up there.

"As an offensive lineman you always consider yourself one unit," Phillips said. "We're all going to be there for any of the guys, and I think those (younger) guys know they can come to us (veterans) for anything because we're there to help them.

"We want the next offensive line to be as good as this one."
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