MIAMI -- The inscription is on his right arm. The message is quite simple, if not powerful. God Bless The Game.
It took 30 minutes for the tattoo artist to burn the outline of a football into his skin, with those words surrounding it. Safety Kenny Phillips wanted a permanent reminder of that special season in 2003 when the Carol City High Chiefs won the Class 6A state championship game.
"God blessed me with the ability to play this game," he said recently, sitting in the office of Carol City basketball Coach Barry Robinson. "I love it, especially the contact part."
But perhaps his most significant statistic is 3.8. That's his grade-point average.
And did we mention the 1,020 score on his SAT?
He is the player of the year on the Orlando Sentinel's 86th annual All-Southern Football Team, which is announced today.
Phillips' on-field numbers would have been better had he seen the ball more. Opponents passed to the other side of Carol City's Cover 2 zone -- where a safety is responsible for his deep half of the field -- 75 percent of the time.
Phillips also connects as a special talent on another level, this one intangible. He has a likable presence, engaging smile and self-deprecating personality.
Sitting in the office on a recent evening, Phillips grimaces while his basketball teammates are running sprints -- the toll demanded by Robinson after a loss the previous night.
"It's crazy out there," Phillips says, smiling.
While he plays basketball as a leisurely hobby of sorts, Phillips is all about football.
Trophies and awards keep piling up. He is the consensus best player in the state, documented by his Gatorade Thirst Quencher 2004 Florida Football Player of Year Award. There are stacks of recruiting letters, which essentially mean he can go anywhere he wants. Phillips says he likely won't make a decision until the night before signing day in February.
It will make for high anxiety among the three schools -- he has said he will choose from among Florida State, Miami and Tennessee -- that are the finalists for his attention.
Every school recruiting Phillips expects him to emerge as a big-impact defensive player. At Carol City, he has shown a remarkable sixth sense reacting to plays.
The talent is inherent. Phillips doesn't quite know where it comes from. His grandfather on his mother's side played quarterback for FAMU. His uncle played high school basketball. His father played some sports while in high school.
But maybe it's best to strop trying to do the genetic math and appreciate Phillips for who he is.
"He's a student of the game, athletic, and he's almost too good to be true," Carol City Coach Walt Frazier said. "He's a team player, a leader, and he knows the defensive philosophy of our team. He's been at it since a sophomore. He just took over."
But Phillips doesn't think he did enough this season. Carol City was eliminated in the state semifinals by eventual champion Miami Killian, and the sting has yet to wear off.
"Coach was always talking about senior leadership," Phillips said. "I was the captain and we lost, so I put it on me. It's my fault. Maybe if I would have said something to this person, got him more motivated."
2004 All-Southern football team: CAROL CITY'S PHILLIPS PROVES HE'S BEST PLAYER IN SOUTH
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