I boarded the Justin Phillips Hype Train during Bedlam 2014 when Phillips was one of four Pokes with double-digit tackles in one of the great Oklahoma State wins of the Mike Gundy era. Phillips was an unknown linebacker from Pearland, Texas who played in just five games that season.
That OSU team was so green that the Pokes decided to redshirt Phillips in his second year on campus. An odd move, but one that was justified by the depth Oklahoma State brought in via transfer (guys like Devante Averette and Jordan Burton).
“He could, but we don’t know,” Gundy told the Oklahoman at the time about Phillips. “We just have to wait and see how things pan out in the first three or four games. But sometimes, if you have a true freshman that we think we can redshirt based on the number of plays they can get, (Phillips) is a guy that we could redshirt if things fall into place like they should. Sometimes that doesn’t happen though.”
He eventually did redshirt, and it benefitted him as he gained 10-15 pounds from his freshman year until his junior year. Phillips returned last year as a backup to Devante Averette, but he only had one game in which he totaled more than six tackles (a 14-tackle performance against Texas Tech at home). He was good, not great, and ended the year with 2 sacks, 2.5 TFL and an interception.
This year, as the starting WLB, Phillips seems to have stepped into a starring role on Glenn Spencer’s sometimes-underrated defense. He totaled five tackles against Tulsa, a tackle for loss against South Alabama and later on had a pick-6 after Sugar Loaf Daniels tipped a ball at the line.
Phillips is a great complement to the speed of OSU’s Star LBs and the wisdom of Chad Whitener. And he’s going to be even more important with Kenneth Edison-McGruder day to day and Calvin Bundage out in the first half against Pitt. Whitener and Kirk Tucker are fine players, but Phillips brings an athleticism those guys cannot match.
This year’s defense is not dependent on one superstar like maybe in the days of Emmanuel Ogbah, but rather on an amalgamation of semi-stars and smart veterans. Phillips is both, and his play will be key to Oklahoma State’s success as they enter the teeth of their schedule in the weeks ahead.