Stepping it up

__After a difficult sophomore season, junior quarterback Jake Phillips finds himself among the CAA’s elite__

Jake Phillips entered the off-season last year fighting for the starting quarterback role, but through hard work and an improved awareness on the field, the junior has established himself as one of the top signal callers in the CAA.

p. “Jake has played very well this year. He’s worked at it really hard,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said.

p. Phillips struggled at times a year ago, at one point losing the starting job to senior Mike Potts. When the season ended, the two were thrust into a three-way battle with sophomore R.J. Archer for the quarterback spot. Phillips won the battle and hasn’t looked back.

p. “I had a really good spring practice, I think it started there,” Phillips said. “We had a really good competition. Coach [Laycock] really challenged us to get better, especially at the quarterback position.”

p. Phillips has taken Laycock’s challenge to heart. By taking more time in the pocket, staying on his reads and using his feet to create time to pass rather than run, Phillips has elevated the Tribe’s offense to a higher level this year.

p. “We’re allowing him a little more flexibility at the line to make some calls,” Laycock said. “We’re allowing him a little more flexibility in his reads and the passing game to expand on that and he seems to be handling that very well.”

p. On top of this, Phillips’s leadership has instilled confidence throughout the team.

p. “Jake keeps things light in the huddle,” senior fullback Graham Falbo said. “He’s doing a great job, building our confidence up, and he’s given us some flexibility in terms of switching plays at the line and things like that. Us, as players, we see that during games and during practices and we respond in kind.”

p. The results are evident. The College’s offense is averaging 31.4 points per game, up almost two touchdowns from the 19.0 points the Tribe averaged a year ago. With the departure of Elijah Brooks ’07, the deciding factor in the team’s improvement has been Phillips, who credits his increasing experience and rapport with the offense for helping him flourish under center.

p. “The biggest thing is just gaining experience,” Phillips said. “Knowing where the receivers are going to be, because somehow you’ve got to throw before they are open or throw before they’re looking. Having chemistry with those guys and having a little experience has helped.”

p. As the Tribe heads up to Hofstra for this weekend’s game, Phillips has compiled a stat sheet that is reminiscent to the one Lang Campbell ’05 put together during his own junior campaign, a 2003 season when the Tribe finished 5-5 on the year. 2003 served as the precursor to Campbell’s superb senior season, when he exploded for almost 4,000 passing yards and led the Tribe to an 11-3 record and the Division I-AA semifinals. Similar to ’03, the College enters its contest against Hofstra this season with a record of 4-4.

p. Through eight games this year, Phillips has completed 141 of 247 passing attempts for 2,148 yards, good for a 57.1 percent completion rate. In 2003, Campbell connected on 148 of 233 throws for 1,798 yards, earning a completion rate of 63.5 percent, after eight games as well.

p. Phillips and Campbell sport similar interception numbers, five and six thrown respectively, and passing touchdowns, 17 for Campbell and 15 for Phillips. While Campbell has out-gained Phillips on the ground, rushing for 194 yards through eight games compared to Phillips’ 124 rushing yards, Phillips holds an edge in total yards per game, 287 yards versus 249 yards, and rushing touchdowns, four to zero.

p. It can also be argued that Campbell had a better group of players surrounding him, as Phillips has had to suffer through injuries that have decimated the Tribe’s rushing and receiving corps. If the College can get healthy by the time next season rolls around, the team could be in for a big year.

p. “I haven’t really looked forward to next season too much. I’m just trying to focus on getting better each and every week,” Phillips said.

p. Regardless, with the Tribe still maturing and only a handful of seniors graduating this spring, the blocks are in place for Phillips to take a Campbell-esque leap in 2008 that may land him among the College’s all-time greats.


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