PROVO — The high school football career of Timpview senior two-way starter Preston Phillips ended Friday evening in the mud amid a flurry of T-Bird turnovers and a 49-30 thumping at the hands of visiting East High.

But Phillips' exploits won't soon be forgotten at Timpview. A three-year defensive starter, two at strong safety and one at outside linebacker, who also started for two seasons at slot receiver, Phillips amazingly played the last half of this year on essentially one leg.

Back on Sept. 2, in a 29-24 victory over Lone Peak, Phillips completely tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

"It was in the fourth quarter with like three minutes left," Phillips said. "It was actually probably my best game I've ever had offensively and defensively. And then, just a freak accident, I tore it. We went to the hospital that night and found out from the MRI that it was torn."

After sitting out two weeks, Phillips strapped on a bulky knee brace and stepped back out onto the field.

"At first, I was devastated," Phillips said. "But then (two weeks later) I came back against Lehi and had two touchdowns that game. I just came back full strength.

"It's been fine; I haven't lost a step in any area of my game. I've been really lucky to have such an injury as that and not have it affect me."

The knee, whose swelling was limited by mild electric stimulation before practices and games, will now require surgical repair.

For Phillips, the decision to play through the injury was simple — this was his senior season, and he had waited two years for the chance to shine without being eclipsed by other stars in the Timpview firmament.

"I was just amazed that he could still play," said former head coach and offensive coordinator Chad Van Orden. "He just willed himself to do what he did."

Last year, Stephen Covey, Harvey Unga, Luke Ashworth and Matt Reynolds were the T-Birds making headlines. This year, of course, each member of the quartet received a football scholarship to play for BYU. And while Phillips lamented losing such talented teammates, he also felt a sense of relief.

"I wanted to get the ball more last year as a junior, but coach Van Orden just constantly explained to me 'It's Luke's year, it's Covey and Harvey's year,' and just to wait for my time, and it came.

"So this is my senior year and I (wasn't) going to be fazed by the shoes I had to fill because I think I've been able to fill them since I was a sophomore, but I just never had the chance until (this year)."

And fill them he did. When he wasn't busy wreaking havoc on defense, Phillips played the "A" receiver in the T-Birds' prolific spread offense. He caught eight touchdowns — five of which came after his injury — and Phillips ranks in the top 20 in Utah with nearly 700 receiving yards.

In his high-school career, Phillips had more than 120 unassisted tackles, four interceptions and four fumble recoveries, and he caught more than 50 passes for nearly 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns.

"At the first of the year, before his injury, I thought he was playing Luke-like," Van Orden said, referring to both the offensive and defensive skills displayed last year at Timpview by Ashworth.

For an answer as to where Phillips' uncanny resilience and confidence come from, look no further than the Phillips family tree. His father, Scott Phillips, was a star quarterback at Springville High and later a star halfback at BYU. Preston also grew up having to compete against and keep up with two older brothers, Brady and Nate — both of whom also starred for Timpview.

"The focus and intensity that they address sports with is pretty similar in all three," said Linda Phillips, mother of all three. "Brady and Nate are role models for Preston. He'll ask their advice.

"But Preston's always wanted to prove that he's his own guy, even since he was a toddler. Maybe it has something to do with him being the third boy, but he's always wanted to prove himself, always had an 'I'll beat you someday' attitude."

At 6-feet-2 and 180 pounds, Preston can run a 4.55 40-yard dash and bench press 275 pounds. Despite his intriguing combination of strength, size and speed — not to mention the fact he's a three-year starter in a program like Timpview's — Phillips hasn't attracted heavy attention from college coaches.

"I feel like I'm worthy to have a scholarship," Phillips said. "But if the colleges see something wrong with me, there's nothing I can do about it. But it's not over yet; I've still got time to see."

Having turned 18 within the past month, Phillips plans on serving an LDS mission before his freshman year of college. Those plans, combined with questions colleges will have regarding his right knee, mean Phillips has a couple of years to figure out where he'll play at the next level.

But, given his body of work and athletic ability, whether Preston Phillips plays college football isn't a question of "if" but only of "where" and "when."

"I think he can definitely help some team in the future, if he can get healthy," said Van Orden, who believes Phillips has the tools to play the safety position in college. "When I look at the players that have come through here and the ones playing in college now, he's just as capable as any of them."


E-mail: jaskar@desnews.com