One tweet by a University of Kentucky beat writer and Signal Mountain's Reese Phillips began to understand the magnitude of his commitment to Wildcats football coach Joker Phillips.
In less than two hours the Eagles quarterback's list of Twitter followers had grown by three dozen, each with some connection to the school's football program.
Phillips, in Lexington on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday on an unofficial visit to Kentucky, accepted a scholarship offer during a sit-down with Wildcats coach Joker Phillips. It came on the heels of a look at the dormitories and a visit to the athletics academic center.
The acceptance of the offer, although non-binding until he actually signs scholarship papers in February, is a lock, the quarterback said.
"Coach Phillips started off by asking about me, and then he told me about himself. He said, 'I really like you and that's why I wanted to offer you a scholarship.' He said they were going to close the book on quarterbacks and that I was the guy they wanted. I said this is where I want to be."
Phillips, an all-state selection as a junior, had offers from Memphis and MTSU. Mississippi State, Alabama and Vanderbilt were interested enough to ask him in for one-day camps so all the offensive coaches could get a look beyond video. He also attended a camp at Tennessee last year but neither him or Signal Mountain coach Bill Price ever heard from the Vols.
"This is such a great opportunity. I didn't want to wait [on other schools]. I told coach Phillips that I knew a quarterback might be the face of a class and quite often the earlier a school can get a quarterback commitment the easier it is to recruit other players," he said. "I'm firmly committed to Kentucky. I'm sold on the city, the school, the football program and the coaches."
Phillips was almost certain Kentucky was where he wanted to be even before he entered Lexington's city limits or set foot on Kentucky's campus. Much of the reason was Randy Sanders, the ex-Vol who is the Wildcats' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
"He was the biggest reason I wanted to come up here. I grew up as a Tennessee fan and knew about him and coach [David] Cutcliffe. Once I met him I felt like I could talk with him about anything," he said. "Once I'm up here, it will be more business-like I'm sure, but I think it will still be a comfortable relationship."
And arriving on campus boosted his positive mindset.
"Everybody we met or talked with was so friendly. It's a lot like Chattanooga. We stopped a couple of times to ask directions and the people were so nice and down to earth."
As quarterbacks go, Phillips might still be considered green although he threw for 1,895 yards while completing 71 percent of his passes in a Wing-T offense. In his first year as a starting quarterback last fall, he had 21 touchdown strikes with just four interceptions. That doesn't mean he's an inexperienced player, having started as an eighth-grader for the Eagles and having played cornerback, safety, linebacker, defensive end and split end while also returning kickoffs and punts.
Phillips is the first Eagles player to commit to a Southeastern Conference school.
As a first-year starter at quarterback last season and playing in a Wing-T offense, Phillips threw for 1,895 yards and 21 TDs while completing 71 percent of his passes.
"Every recruiter that saw him said he already can make all the throws college quarterbacks have to make," Price said. "A lot of the quarterbacks that are being recruited have started at the position since they were freshmen or sophomores. Reese has just 10 starts but he has been part of a good program. He's used to winning, and I think that makes some difference. He was outstanding handling the team last year. He's intelligent and he wants to win. He's his own toughest critic, and he also has done it academically. He has a 3.75 gpa and he has already passed the ACT.
"It's a big deal to sign with a BCS conference. Reese is one of those guys that when he makes up his mind, it's done. There's a lot of stress in the recruiting process nowadays. Now the pressure's off and he can just go out and play football."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...