KINGSPORT — Just the way he stands back there in shotgun formation projects a mystical image.
With his life on the line every time the football is snapped, Sullivan South’s Curt Phillips seems almost immune to pressure with his exceptional calmness.
Boldness is just one of his endearing traits.
His competitiveness reflects the fire that burns inside that 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame. Phillips throws passes like zinging bullets. More often than coach Stacy Carter would like, his quarterback tucks the ball and becomes a hard-nosed running back.
“Curt is physical but we like to see him take care of himself,” Carter said. “He’s a tough competitor and it’s hard to tell him not to do that.”
Phillips, a two-time first-team all-state performer, makes the Rebels’ offense both explosive and entertaining. In the twinkle of an eye, he can light up the scoreboard and leave opponents in a daze.
His strengths on the field are immense. He shows accuracy and consistency as a touch passer. Add power and mobility as a runner and you have one of the nation’s highest-rated dual-threat quarterbacks.
No one really knows how much attention he would have attracted from the major college ranks because he took himself out of the recruiting game early by giving the University of Wisconsin a verbal commitment.
“I was having to miss a lot of practices,” he said. “I needed to be working out more with the team.”
Carter felt relieved when Phillips telephoned Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to say he would be coming to Madison.
“That probably helped me more than it did everybody else,” Carter said. “It’s exciting to have a highly recruited player but it can get difficult for him and the coaching staff. Now, Curt can concentrate on just playing.”
Phillips runs the 40 in 4.56 seconds, bench-presses more than 300 pounds and has a 34-inch vertical leap.
He owns every school passing record. The program was established in 1980.
Beginning his third year as a varsity starter, Phillips has compiled 5,058 yards of offense. He has passed for 3,155 yards and 34 touchdowns and carried for 1,903 yards and 24 TDs.
Last year alone he completed 138 of 217 passes for 2,201 yards and 25 TDs while giving up just five interceptions.
“That’s a pretty good ratio,” Carter said.
Phillips also kept the ball for 805 yards and 14 TDs.
“He is fantastic in every aspect,” Carter said. “It’s unbelievable to have a star player who’s so well liked by teachers and fellow students. He worked hard in the offseason to get ready for his final year. Curt has been to every camp around. He’s a whole lot faster, bigger and stronger.
“What impresses me is how humble he’s stayed through all that he’s achieved. He’s still coachable. Curt can still take a good chewing out. If I didn’t give him one occasionally, he wouldn’t know what to do.”
As a sophomore, he could throw the ball 68 yards. His throwing distance hasn’t been measured in a while.
“He has a gift for being able to sense what’s around him,” Carter said. “Curt has great vision. He’s better when we get the defense spread out. Give him time and he’ll always throw first. He’s good deep or short. Curt throws crossing routes and outcuts with equal effectiveness.”
Phillips was a soccer player until he took an interest in football as a fifth-grader. He played defensive end until being shifted to quarterback in seventh grade.
A shoulder injury in basketball two years ago persuaded Phillips to cut short the hoops season and devote more time to conditioning himself for football. He gave track a try just to see how his speed compared with those of the wideouts and running backs.
“It helped me to improve my starts,” Phillips said of his foray as a sprinter. “I can tell a difference in my acceleration.”
Phillips carries a 3.75 grade point average. His ACT score was 27.
He enjoys Mexican food and listens to all types of music except hard rock.
Sullivan East coach Ralph Nelson, who won’t have to face Phillips until October, realizes his value to the South team.
“He’s the type of player who can take over a game and win it by himself,” Nelson said. “The sky is the limit for him if he gets a couple of breaks.
“He’s a diamond of a kid and a great athlete.”
Likewise, Sullivan North coach Robbie Norris sees the influence Phillips has on the way the game is played locally.
“He makes us all better,” Norris said. “We have to think of ways to contain every variation of the spread formation because of Phillips.”
Tennessee High coach Greg Stubbs is well aware of what South’s star is capable of doing.
“Phillips can beat you,” he said. “He makes it difficult on defenses. He does a lot of things so well. He’s a playmaker — South’s big weapon.”
Even if Phillips chose to coast, he would not be able to do so. He gets a strong push from second-string QB Bradley Jeffers.
“At no time in history have we had two like these on the same team who throw like they do,” Carter said. “It’s a show when they go against each other in practice.”
Phillips backs up Jeffers as the Rebels’ punter.
“I throw right-handed but punt with my left foot,” Phillips said.
He will have blood kin on the field with him this year. His brother Clint, a sophomore, will appear at three different positions — running back, tight end and wide receiver.
“Clint will make his own way,” Carter said.
Their father, Jim, is a radiologist. Drenda, their mother, was an outstanding volleyball player at the University of Memphis.
Curt is looking forward to the 2007 season.
“We’d like to take it a little farther on down the road in the playoffs,” he said. “I want to be smarter with the ball and get it out to the receivers a bit faster.”
Keep a close eye on No. 10. He’s a treat to watch.