One thing some people always fret about when it comes to BYU football is the ability of staff members to recruit speedy players.
This 2010 class signed by Bronco Mendenhall on Wednesday is no exception to that kind of scrutiny. While it's a class loaded with talented linebackers and running backs, one particular athlete sticks out in the speed department. His name is Drew Phillips, a 5,000-yard rusher from Boaz, Ala.
Allegedly and reportedly, this Phillips kid has speed. He's been clocked at 4.39 seconds for 40 yards. Phillips returned four kickoffs for touchdowns this past year and holds the Boaz school record for returning a punt 99 yards. In his highlight video, he looks like a blur and everyone else looks like cardboard cutouts.
BYU recruiting coordinator Paul Tidwell said Wednesday that this 2010 recruiting class is the fastest and most athletic BYU has recruited.
"Yes, I'd say it is, from the big guys to the little skilled position players," he said. "Just the four guys who came in mid-year (Kyle Van Noy, Josh Quesada, Jake Heaps and Ross Apo), they're running well and we're excited."
Tidwell said according to 40-yard dash times on record, Phillips should be the fastest.
I decided to find out more about Phillips, so I called his high school coach, Drew Noles. Calling high school coaches about recruits is one of my favorite things to do in February. They are a riot. Noles is a veteran coach in the deep South with one of those trademark accents laced with "yes, sir" here and there.
And yes, I know high school coaches love to talk up their players. That's why it's fun to plug in to their take.
One thing about football in the South, said Noles, is tough football is a trademark. It isn't for pansies. Noles ran the Power I and opponents loaded up for Phillips on every play. Still, Phillips averaged 6.5 yards a carry for his career.
"Yeah, but is he fast?" I asked. Folks in Provo want to know if he's got speed.
"First, it all starts with his speed," said Noles. "He has tremendous speed. He is one of the fastest football players in the state of Alabama, and that also goes for track and field. He has breakaway speed. He gives you opportunities to score from anywhere on the field. He has great vision and that is something you just can't teach or coach.
"When there doesn't look like there is too much there, he can make something of it. Some of his best runs are where it looks like he's caught for a four- or five-yard loss and he makes something out of it. He has the ability to fall forward."
Phillips is 6-feet, 175 pounds and built like a sprinter.
Noles says Phillips is very strong, but not weight-room strong because, as a three-sport athlete (football, basketball and track), he's never been in a year-round weight program.
"When he does, he'll add weight and bulk up and increase his strength," Noles said.
At the University of Alabama, Noles was present to witness Phillips run his 4.39 time in the 40 at Tuscaloosa this past summer.
"He won the Smokehouse Award as the fastest player at the University of Michigan football camp. He was the fastest player at the University of Alabama football camp this summer. He possesses great speed," said Noles.
"He's a tough kid. Our program is based on toughness and we're defensive-minded and we run the I formation and he's going to get the ball. He's playing 5A football in Alabama, he's not running against 1A and 2A football teams. He's going to get the ball against teams that have nine- or 10-man coaching staffs that have game plans around Drew, yet he had 2,200 yards his junior year and 1,900 yards as a senior."
This spring, Noles predicts more success for Phillips as a sprinter. Last year was the first time Phillips ran track; before that, his spring sport was tennis.
"He didn't know how to come out of the blocks. He never ran with blocks or ever used them. He was really raw," Noles said. "By the end, he took sixth in the 5A state track meet in the 100 meters, which is impressive because he didn't know how to run like a sprinter.
"Hopefully, he'll train this year and be able to win the state 100."
Noles said Phillips visited BYU during the summer when highly touted QB Jake Heaps was there with others who committed early. But Mendenhall and Phillips decided he should wait and not exchange commitments until later in the year.
Phillips committed to BYU in November and visited the campus with his family a few weeks ago.
Noles sees multiple uses for Phillips in BYU's offensive schemes.
"I think he'll be able to play running back in college and play the slot as a receiver," Noles said. "He can play the Wildcat formation as a quarterback. He's an athletic guy who has a tremendous arm and some recruiters liked that about him, that he could be used that way.
"He will be a return man because a lot of teams around here wouldn't kick to him. He did have four kickoffs returned for a touchdown this year. For us, we'd put him back as a punt returner knowing they were going to kick it 50 yards out of bounds, so it was a tremendous advantage for us."
So, there's the testimony of somebody who knows Phillips in and out.
Maybe the guy is fast.