Andru Phillips watched from the opposite side of the field as a teammate, Jeadyn Lukus, jumped in front of a receiver to steal a pass. Lukus got away, tiptoed the sideline for a moment, then broke inside to complete a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown to extend the Mauldin Mavericks’ already sizable lead at Riverside High School.
Phillips, who has committed to the University of Kentucky, met Lukus in the end zone to celebrate. It was, probably, the hardest he ran that game on Sept. 27. Other than an impressive breakup of a pass earlier in the game, Phillips had little opportunity to show off defensively. Only a couple of overthrown passes came his direction that night; the rest were to areas of the field well outside of his reach.
“It’s been like that all season, man,” Phillips said with a grin. He guessed that only a handful of balls have come his direction through five games in his senior season. “It’s not that fun,” he continued with a laugh. “I’m just out here doing my job and letting my other teammates shine a little bit.”
Mauldin head coach Harry Cabaniss is trying to get the defensive back a little more run on offense and feature him more in Mauldin’s return game (where, again, kickers tend to avoid his area). Against Riverside, Phillips picked up about 5 extra yards on one of his fielded returns as he burrowed into a mass of defenders. He said contact is his favorite part of the game.
This season, so far, his mind has been challenged more between the lines than his 6-foot, 180-pound frame.
“You’re having to play every play and know the ball’s not coming to ya,” Cabaniss said. “That’s tough.”
Phillips, considered a three-star prospect by both 247Sports and Rivals, is one of the top high school football players in South Carolina but spent most of his life in Louisville. His dad, Carlos, is an Owensboro native who played for UK in the late 1980s. His mom, LaTonya, was a standout athlete at Danville High School before attending Louisville, whom Andru also considered.
His list of known offers also included Tennessee, West Virginia and North Carolina State. He committed to Kentucky on April 29; co-defensive backs and special teams coach Dean Hood was his lead recruiter.
“One of Andru’s priorities was to be close to family and get back home,” Carlos Phillips said. “… He gets to do that with a quality program. It’s a great opportunity for him.”
You think the top-ranked and unbeaten Male High School football team is a bear to handle now? Imagine Phillips in its defensive backfield causing chaos in Class 6A; it probably would’ve happened had he stayed home. There’s a slight chance that he might have followed in two brothers’ footsteps to St. Xavier, but Phillips’ heart was with the Bulldogs, where childhood friend Izayah Cummings, another Kentucky commit, is a standout at wide receiver.
He stays in touch with Cummings and several other in-state prospects who’ve announced their intent to join the Wildcats as part of the 2020 signing class, which can’t officially happen until Dec. 18, at the earliest.
One of Carlos’ teammates at UK was Bill Allen, whose son, Beau, is a quarterback committed to the Wildcats in the 2020 class. The legacy recruits have enjoyed building a bond before they enroll in college come January.
“I love him, he’s a great guy and our friendship will only grow on,” Beau Allen said. “He’s definitely one of the best corners I’ve ever gone up against at a camp. His highlights are so fun to watch. He’s great.”
UK: Then vs. Now
Carlos played for Jerry Claiborne at Kentucky. He was a linebacker but served in a number of roles for the Wildcats when he got on the field; his coaches couldn’t figure out what to do with him, he joked.
The ability level and number of reserves in UK’s program is what most distinguishes it from his days on campus, he believes.
“When I was playing, our first team, we could play with any first team,” Carlos said. “But as the game drug on, we had depth issues, and they don’t seem to have as many of those depth issues anymore.”
He credits the school’s investment in coaching and facilities for its ability to build itself into a more consistent threat in the Southeastern Conference. The program this season appears to be in the midst of a lull — similar to where it was four years ago, the last time it played an ample amount of freshmen and sophomores — but the development of unheralded prospects like Josh Allen and Benny Snell is a sign that the coaching staff knows what it’s doing, Carlos said.
“It looks promising,” Carlos said. “If Andru goes up there and he’s coachable and does the things that he needs to do, the sky could be the limit for him.”
“That’s the type of program the University of Kentucky has right now.”
Arkansas at Kentucky
7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)