Some cornerbacks might consider being 5 feet 10 a liability.
Clark Phillips III considers it a blessing. The La Habra (California) High School star, who committed to Ohio State in June, has always been motivated by skeptics. He can practically quote the broadcast analyst's observation in his first game as a sophomore.
“Smaller-built corner — not sure how far he’s going to project,” Phillips recalled, almost adopting the broadcaster’s voice.
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Phillips has projected just fine. He’s the No. 46 player nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings and the fourth-ranked cornerback.
“My biggest motivation is being undersized at my position,” Phillips said. “I feel I was overlooked. Some people would argue the opposite because of the way my recruitment turned out, but I feel I've had to work for everything.”
Even if he had a magic wand and could grow a couple more inches, Phillips would decline.
“I don't think I'd have the same drive and passion and dedication if I was 6-3,” he said.
Phillips said his daily workouts begin as early as 4:30 a.m. when he wakes and does push-ups or jumps rope. He said his father sometimes advises him to take a break, but he finds that difficult.
“Aside from the talent, the incredible speed, the vertical leap and athleticism, he definitely is somebody that enjoys the work,” La Habra coach Frank Mazzotta said. “He loves the film study, loves the training year-round, loves practice. I've never seen a guy just enjoy practice all the time. For him, it's like game day every day.”
La Habra is a traditional power, but Mazzotta said Phillips' work ethic and leadership have lifted the entire team to a different level.
“Clark has a way of just raising the level of people,” he said. “He pulls people up. He's a fantastic kid. He just lights up the room with his personality and his smile. He's a real thoughtful person, very conscientious. He's good to everybody. Anybody that's in the room, he treats them like gold.”
Phillips has gotten off to a strong start this season. He had two interceptions in La Habra’s season opener and returned one for a touchdown last week.
Phillips said his success has been the result of film study as much as his physical skills.
“I kind of knew a lot of the route concepts and formations that they would run,” he said. “It was like studying really well for a test. I saw it and was able to react at top speed to make those plays.”
He studies more than film in preparing for a game. Phillips will also look for tidbits that he might use to get in opponents’ heads. He might be courteous and respectful off the field, but he revels in trash-talking on it.
Phillips’ dad is a pastor, but Clark said that he hasn’t chastised him about his mouth during games.
“He's OK with it as long as it stays on the field,” he said with a laugh.
Phillips said he developed a quick rapport with Ryan Day and Buckeyes defensive co-coordinator Jeff Hafley during recruiting. Phillips was quite familiar with Ohio State’s success in developing cornerbacks into first-round NFL draft picks. Not surprisingly, one of Phillips’ role models as a cornerback is Denzel Ward, who also was doubted because of his size.
Phillips said he picked Ohio State because of “the prestige of the university in terms of football and academically. I'll be pushed on and off the field.”
He plans to enroll in January.
“I can’t wait,” Phillips said.