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The waiting game

KEVIN B. KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Sixth-year senior offensive tackle Brandon Phillips was granted another year of eligibility after receiving a medical redshirt from the NCAA last off-season.
By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, September 1, 2004
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Senior Phillips can't wait to hit field, but he's going to have to

Brandon Phillips has battled in the trenches for four different head coaches and played alongside six starting quarterbacks.

He's seen a pair of 1,000-yard rushers come through the UA program, and will likely pave the way for another this year.

He's been on one team ranked in the top five, another in the top 25 and yet another not even ranked in the top 105.

He's just about seen it all in his time on the Arizona football team.

But there's one thing Phillips hasn't seen while playing for the Wildcats: Arizona in a bowl game.

"I think coming back here and having some success that I didn't have previously is worth it," said Phillips, who turned down the lure of the NFL to stay in school one more year. "I don't sit back and think, 'Where would I be?'"

A sixth-year senior from Chandler, Phillips came to the program in 1999, just after the Wildcats knocked off perennial powerhouse Nebraska in the 1998 Holiday Bowl to finish the season No. 4 in the country.

But from the Wildcats' struggles that first year to the saga of former head coach John Mackovic, Phillips saw Arizona's football fortunes go from bad to worse in virtually no time.

Phillips, who's been a part of the UA program longer than any current member - player or coach - saw his eligibility initially run out last year, his fifth with the program. His senior season was cut short by a knee injury after just two games, leading the 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive tackle to discuss the possibility of attaining a medical redshirt waiver from UA officials.

Phillips said he eventually signed with an agent after the school told him his college career was finished, but the family studies and human development senior is adamant that no money changed hands.

He made another push for an extra year with the help of UA head coach Mike Stoops, and the NCAA decided in March to let Phillips play.

"I'd made my first decision based on what the university told me," Phillips said. "(The NCAA) took that into account."

Phillips' new Wildcat life didn't come without a catch, though. The NCAA ruled that he'll have to sit out the Wildcats' first three games (their entire non-conference schedule).

After last season's injury, Phillips is no stranger to the prospect of having to sit when he'd rather be out playing, but he admits this time will be different.

"It's bad when you've got an injury, but I guess the psychology of it is different in this case," he said. "You just feel like you've got to get out there."

With game week preparations beginning this week for the Wildcats' matchup with Northern Arizona Saturday night, Phillips said he's had to take somewhat of a back seat in practice to fellow offensive tackles Chris Johnson, Tanner Bell and Peter Graniello.

"I take just enough plays at each spot to get my repetitions, then the other guys do," he said.

Stoops said Monday that aside from center Keoki Fraser, nearly every offensive and defensive lineman will be rotated throughout Saturday's game.

In the meantime, Phillips said he's unsure of what kind of game day involvement he'll be allowed to have. He added that he's more than willing to abide by whatever the NCAA regulations are, but that he hasn't yet discussed with the coaching staff where he'll get to watch the games from.

Even still, Phillips said he wants to be as involved as he can, possibly even to give feedback to his fellow linemen.

"I'll be especially watching the outside guys," Phillips said. "Small things are hard to see on your own. Other people can always see things better."

Despite being anxious on the sidelines during games and ultimately seeing limited practice time during the week, Phillips is certain he'll be ready to play when his eligibility is restored for the Wildcats' first Pacific 10 Conference contest, a nationally televised game against Washington State on Sept. 25.

"I've been doing enough," he said. "Between what I've been doing in practice and in the weight room, I'll be ready."

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