Junior running back steps up when needed for Wonders

When A.L. Brown football coach Mike Newsome learned running back Damien Washington was hurt last month, he didn't panic. Newsome had a plan.

It all started with junior running back Kalif Phillips.

"I went straight to Kalif and challenged him to play at a higher level," said Newsome. "I had a lot of confidence in Kalif to get the job done. But he has gone way beyond our expectations. He has done it every week for the last month, not just in one game."

After rushing for 270 yards in his first four varsity games alongside Washington, who had run for 544 yards before his knee injury, Phillips has exploded into the spotlight without his all-conference teammate.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound back rushed for 511 yards and 10 touchdowns in the three weeks heading into the Oct. 7 game at Mount Pleasant.

With Phillips as the starter, the Wonders beat Jay M. Robinson, Central Cabarrus and Cox Mill by a combined score of 169-0.

Phillips began that span rushing for 180 yards and two touchdowns while catching four passes for 77 yards and two more scores to lead his team to a 48-0 rout of Robinson. He followed that up with 111 yards and three rushing scores in a 65-0 win over Central Cabarrus. Phillips had a career-best 220 rushing yards and three more touchdowns in a 56-0 victory against Cox Mill.

Phillips was averaging an eye-popping 10.8 yards per carry this season, including 15 yards per carry in the three games he had been a starter, heading into last Friday's game.

"I knew I had to step up, with all of the injuries we had," Phillips said. "I was ready to go and prove myself and show I could be the main guy."

While Phillips is in the main rotation in the vaunted A.L. Brown rushing attack, last year at this time he was a two-way Wonder junior varsity star.

Phillips was a standout running back and linebacker, and coming into the season, Newsome said, coaches were still debating what position he would play.

Phillips quickly established himself, however, in the "B-back" role in the Brown offense.

"We always tell our players to be ready to step in and step up when their time comes," said Newsome. "Kalif was already a big part of our offense, but when we asked him to do more things, he was ready. He fits the mold of a Kannapolis running back, and that says a lot."

Phillips has already impressed college scouts. Newsome said Virginia began recruiting him after seeing his past month of football on tape. Newsome is sure many others will follow.

While Phillips hopes to be the best he can at both A.L. Brown and beyond, for now he is focused on the season at hand, as Brown tries to win another conference title and make a deep run in the playoffs.

"This is just the beginning for me and my team," said Phillips. "We have to go out and prove ourselves every week, and that is what we plan on doing the rest of the season."