Troubled Lawrence Phillips was a local legend who won’t be forgotten

For those fortunate to have seen Lawrence Phillips play when he was trampling defenders on high school football fields across the San Gabriel Valley, the praise was always the same.

“Best ever.”

“Man among boys.”

Phillips, who played at West Covina and Baldwin Park high schools, before reaching national fame at Nebraska and then in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams, died early Wednesday from an apparent suicide in his jail cell at Kern Valley State Prison. He was 40.

“The way things had been going, I think it was inevitable that something would happen to him,” said Tony Zane, who was Phillip’s high school head coach at Baldwin Park for his junior and senior seasons. “Something was bound to happen. He was not going to be alive very long if he was in there (prison).”

And yet while nationally Phillips will be remembered as the running back with Hall of Fame talent who blew it all with poor off-field choices, locally, Phillips will hold always hold a special place with those who knew him personally, played against him, coached him or simply watched him shine while carrying the ball.

Phillips was born in Arkansas in May, 1975 and bounced around foster homes, including one in West Covina, which is where he followed a strong youth football career by being met with high expectations when starting his prep career at West Covina High.

But the first of Phillips’ troubles with authority, an event that is still fuzzy to those who tried to recall the exact circumstances of it, led to Phillips winding up at Baldwin Park for his junior and senior season … but not before considering Charter Oak.

“At that time, he was going to go to Baldwin Park or Charter Oak,” veteran Charter Oak head coach Lou Farrar recalled. “They were looking for someone who could handle him. They talked to me. I met the kid here on campus. He didn’t say too much He was a big, big, big athlete. He wound up going over there to Baldwin Park.

“A couple years later, I saw him standing in the Baldwin Park gym before basketball game and he was dunking and shooting. It was amazing how big he was.”

Phillips was often described as a man-child. He was simply too physical of a running back for high school defenders to handle. And when he wasn’t running over people, he was running around them. Needless to say, the wins followed. And those are something Zane said Phillips loved to flash back on even in his final years.

“He remembered his high school games like they were yesterday,” Zane said. “The one CIF (playoff) game we had against Glendora and probably the games we had against West Covina were the ones he liked to remember most.

“Against Glendora, he almost got taken off the kickoff team because he fumbled. But they had just scored to make it 10-0 and we put him back there one last time and he took the kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown. And we went on to win the game. He remembered that forever.”

Those who coached against Baldwin Park and tried to stop Phillips also often got something to remember forever. Steve Bogan, now the head coach at Maranatha after a long and successful career at South Hills remembers trying to devise a way to stop Phillips when he was defensive coordinator for the Huskies in 1991.

“We just him knew him by his number at the time,” Bogan said. “We basically knew when he was getting the ball and we still couldn’t stop him. We loaded the box and he’s still getting six yards. That guy was special.”

Phillips was name the San Gabriel Valley Tribune’s Player of the Year in 1992. He signed to play at Nebraska, then a national power, and quickly caught on in the Cornhuskers’ backfield even as a freshman.

As a sophomore, Phillips led Nebraska to the national championship in 1994. The Cornhuskers repeated in 1995, but the first of Phillips’ serious legal problems had begun. He was arrested for allegedly dragging his girlfriend down a flight of stairs.

By 1996, Phillips’ relationship with Nebraska grew strained and he decided to leave for the NFL. The Rams took Phillips with the No. 6 overall pick. He was released after just two seasons.

Phillips’ life really took a turn for the worst after he was officially out of football. In 2006, he was convicted for assault with a deadly weapon. In 2009, he was convicted for assaulting his girlfriend. In April of 2015, Phillips was accused of murdering his cellmate and was on trial for that charge at the time of his death.

“He did what he did and he should have faced some consequences,” Zane said. “The time period they gave him prison for was unbelievable compared to what he had done. He was a product of his environment growing up.

“The thing that gets me about Lawrence, it was never about accolades. It never about money, even when he went to the pros. It was always about playing football, having fun and winning football games. That’s who he was.”

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FINAL All-Encompassing SGV(N) Top 25 for 2015 … WHAT A SEASON!

lmirada

1. La Mirada (13-3) — Amazingly dominant postseason says it all.
2. San Marino (15-1) — Second-in-a-lifetime group of players.
3. La Habra (13-2) — Had most amazing moment of the season.
4. Bishop Amat (10-3) — Hit their ceiling hard in Pac-5.
5. Charter Oak (12-2) — To accomplish all that with ZERO size. Wow!
6. La Serna (11-3) — Another remarkable postseason by Lancers.
7. Glendora (11-2) — Sad to see QB Fink and strong senior class go.
8. St. Francis (9-4) — Coaching staff willed team to semifinals.
9. Northview (10-2) — Another fine season by HC Perez and crew.
10. Bonita (8-3) — Program is always in the conversation.
11. San Dimas (10-4) — Really put things together at the right time.
12. Diamond Ranch (7-4) — Drawing San Marino really hurt.
13. Los Altos (5-5) — Down year in ’15, but top 5 in ’16?
14. Monrovia (8-4) — Pretty good when 12-game season is a down year.
15. Baldwin Park (7-4) — What a job by Braves coach James Heggins.
16. Covina (7-5) — Colts finally had their moment in playoffs.
17. South Pasadena (8-3) — Late-season injury to best player hurt.
18. Arroyo (8-3) — League champs with first-year QB.
19. Arcadia (5-5) — Apaches look like program on the rise.
20. West Covina (4-6) — Bad luck started in the offseason.
21. South Hills (4-7) — Got going at right time of year again.
22. Maranatha (7-5) — Bogan wins even in rebuild mode.
23. Rosemead (5-6) — Time to ease up on nonleague schedule.
24. Rio Hondo Prep (6-4) — Northern Div. proved too tough.
25. Pasadena (5-5) — Turkey Tussle was perfect capper for ‘Dogs.

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La Mirada wins State championship bowl game while San Marino falls short

That’s a wrap on the postseason! La Mirada completed what was a simply dominant postseason with yet another runaway win over Campolindo to win the State Division III-AA bowl championship game on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, up north, San Marino couldn’t get star QB Carson Glazier cleared to play by CIF. So, the shorthanded Titans gave it a good try but ultimately Central Catholic pulled away in the small schools bowl championship.

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