When Kentucky senior punter Ryan Tydlacka was a junior at Trinity High School, he found himself irresistibly drawn to watching the Shamrocks' freshman team play.
Seeing mighty mite Tim Phillips run with the football was that entertaining. "I loved to watch the freshman games just to see him," Tydlacka said. "He was awesome."
When UK tight end Nick Melillo was a senior at Trinity, he sometimes felt as if Phillips was a member of his family.
"Tim was real close with my younger brother, Rob," Melillo said. "(Phillips) was always over at our house. He's real close to our whole family."
When Central Michigan visits Kentucky at high noon Saturday, it is more than UK's 2011 home opener. It will be something of a Trinity High School reunion.
When three Wildcats who are expected to play — Tydlacka, Melillo and defensive tackle Luke McDermott — look across the field, they will see their former high school teammate, Phillips. The 5-foot-5, 166-pound redshirt sophomore is part of a three-headed halfback rotation for Central Michigan.
(A fourth ex-Trinity player, walk-on freshman running back Derek Bishop, is also on the UK roster.)
"They actually play three backs, including a back that's here from Kentucky, the Phillips kid," said UK Coach Joker Phillips (no relation) Monday. "Tim Phillips does a good job running the ball."
In his high school days here in the commonwealth, Tim Phillips was one of the more entertaining running backs in Kentucky. His low center of gravity, ability to cut on a dime and quickness made him a darting football jitterbug.
Phillips was at Trinity (2005-08 football seasons) during a time when the Shamrocks dynasty claimed four straight state titles. The little guy was a big part of making titles happen.
In the 2007 Class 6A state finals against archrival St. Xavier, Phillips ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns in Trinity's 34-28 overtime victory. The next season, as a senior, Phillips hit Simon Kenton for 131 yards and three TDs as the 'Rocks rolled 48-0.
Phillips finished that 2008 season with 1,535 yards and 25 touchdowns rushing. He was named to the Herald-Leader's Class of the Commonwealth.
He was among a trio of backs that lit up Louisville high school football that season. Deuce Finch of St. X won the Mr. Football award and accepted a scholarship from Boston College. Male's Justin Green was the object of an intense recruiting battle among Ohio State, Illinois, Louisville and UK before finally opting for the Illini.
"I thought it was between the three of us for Mr. Football," Phillips said Wednesday. "When Deuce got it, I was like 'that's OK. I'd rather have the state titles than individual awards.' "
When it came to his own college recruitment, Phillips' problem was that his height was not nearly as long as his accomplishments.
Hometown Louisville was interested for a while. "I had talks with them," Phillips said, "and then it fell through." The back says he "never heard anything" from UK.
Why Central Michigan?
"They just sent me a letter and my mom and I started looking into it," Phillips says of the Mt. Pleasant, Mich., school. "When I visited, I just fell in love. The people were just amazing. I really did get a family feeling and I wanted to be part of that."
Phillips played as a true freshman in 2009, returning Central Michigan's opening kickoff of the season for 12 yards against Arizona. His best game saw him run for 40 yards and a touchdown against Alcorn State.
He was hoping for bigger things in 2010, but a freak weight-room accident left him with a torn pectoral muscle. The injury sidelined him for the season.
"I was bench pressing, had 330 pounds on and I was doing my second rep," Phillips said. "I was coming up and (the muscle) just snapped."
That sounds rather unpleasant.
"I wouldn't wish that on anybody," Phillips said. "It really hurt."
This season, Phillips was chomping at the bit to get back. In Central Michigan's 21-6 win over South Carolina State last week, sophomore back Zurlon Tipton (18 carries, 73 yards) was the big gun. Phillips had 11 carries for 25 yards.
The little back is excited about returning to play in his home state. "I'd say I'll have about 20 people coming down to see me," he said.
That doesn't count the familiar faces he will be seeing on the other sideline.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him," UK's Melillo said.
Says Tydlacka: "I went back to Louisville this summer and saw Tim. I wished him good luck, but told him to prepare for a loss."
In this case, a high school reunion can be only so hospitable.