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Stanford’s DL Harrison Phillips is a Big Player with a Big Heart

STANFORD — It’s hardly a surprise that literacy is a passion of Harrison Phillips. After all, it’s because of books that the 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive tackle at Stanford garnered the nickname Horrible Harry.

“It wasn’t that he was so horrible,” said his mother, Tammie Rose Phillips, a retired teacher who with her son used to leaf through pages of the popular children’s book series “Horrible Harry,” which elementary schools employ to teach reading with tales of a third-grader’s misadventures. “His great grandfather was quite a character. He was absolutely a barrel of fun and a great guy, so we named Harrison after him. And then we had a choice between Dirty Harry — you know, Clint Eastwood — which is what they called grandpa. So we thought, ‘Well, we can’t go with Dirty Harry, we probably better go with Horrible Harry.’

“So then we read all those books and he loved it and he thought it was funny that he was named that, too.”

Education clearly matters to the double major on The Farm — and not just his.

That’s why this past Friday, during a surprise ceremony at Skycrest Elementary School in the outskirts of Sacramento, Phillips was recognized with a prestigious off-the-field honor as one of 22 college football members of the 2017 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

Phillips was nominated for his volunteer work over the past few years as a mentor for the Sacramento-based Playmakers Mentoring Foundation, which provides afterschool and summer reading programs for at-risk youth.

“I kind of caught wind,” Phillips said. “It was a little fishy when I was like, ‘Well, normally we should be working with the kids now.’ The program had started, but I was just off to the side and then we ended up walking outside instead of the classroom and I saw the whole set up and the kids all started applauding.

“I kind of blushed with a big, joyful smile.”

The instinct to give back to the community was on full display while growing up in Omaha, Nebraska.

With his family in need of supplemental income after Tammie Rose Phillips opted to become a stay-at-home mother, she opened a daycare at their house.

“At one time I had 17 kids,” she said.

The parents would drop the kids off, then it was time to walk to school. When the last bell rang, she would pick them up and return home.

“Our yard was just a playground of fun,” she said.

It was up to Harrison and his older sister, Delanie, to help out with games in the backyard and in the pool as de facto teacher’s aides.

“I would say that’s kind of  where it started,” his mother said. “And then at that time, also, he’s going to Sunday school every weekend and he’s learning about giving back to your community — and he always did.”

“I love Omaha, it was great to me,” said Phillips, whose grandmother paid for his trip to a Stanford camp, otherwise he may have joined the Big Red in Nebraska instead of the Cardinal in Palo Alto. “I had a fantastic family background. They gave everything they could to me so I could live and get everything I needed, but I definitely saw struggle. In my community I saw other athletes that were probably just as good or had as much talent as I had, but didn’t make it out and didn’t get the scholarships due to disadvantages in their home life. And the way the system was set up was stacked against them, so I had a large passion for that.”

As a freshman at Stanford, he forged a strong bond with strong safety Jordan Richards at bible study.

It turns out Richards, a Super Bowl champion after he was taken in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots, also attended a different bible study up in the Sacramento area. That’s where he met Greg “Coach Roz” Roeszler, the founder and executive director of Playmakers.

Needless to say, Richards set up an introduction.

“He’s a Folsom guy and he was going off to the next level as this nonprofit was just getting ready to explode,” Phillips said.

Fate also intervened.

Turns out after tearing his ACL in the 2015 season opener at Northwestern, which wiped away his sophomore year, Phillips found extra time to volunteer.

“It’s a three-tiered approach afterschool program, 90 minutes,” Phillips said. “It’s 30 minutes each tier. The first one is literacy skills, trying to attack the achievement gap between minority and low-socioeconomic-class children who don’t really have as much privilege. We’re targeting at-risk kids. … We try to build character value and be a need of what real family structure is and things that they’ve been missing in their life coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

“He’s always had that inkling to go help,” his mother said. “He definitely has a very, very gentle and soft heart, and he wears his heart on his sleeve. He always is there for the underdog, or the kid that got left behind, or the kid that was bullied. He was always there to grab that kid and make them part of the group.”

Of course, the moment he puts on a helmet and pads, Phillips turns into the bully, sort of, as he wreaks havoc in the trenches.

“There is switch that goes, but at the same time he can be that Horrible Harry and he can knock over a quarterback — and the next thing he’s doing is he’s lifting him up,” his mother said. “It’s like he wanted to do it so badly, he couldn’t wait to do it. But then once he does it, he’s like, ‘Oh man, I just about killed this guy. I gotta help him up.’ ”


Unable to make the roughly six-hour round-trip on weekdays because of class and football, Phillips will create minute-long videos with his iPad and the students in turn send some back.

“I’ll ask them questions or send over articles to Coach Roz to have them look at or read that I think are very interesting,” Phillips said. “I know that the elementary school we were at, which is a feeder to San Juan High, for one of their third- and fourth-grade reading assignments they printed out an article posted about me and that was the thing that they had to read and circle the verbs for and stuff like that.

“So their lesson plans involved me, so when I came it was a lot more special.”


Click here to read the full story: The gentle heart of Stanford’s version of ‘Horrible Harry’

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