Brett Phillips checks all the boxes that describe the student-athletes Tufts University Football wants as part of its program.
"Coach Civetti always talks about being champions in the classroom, community, and on the field," said Tom Beaton, who recruited Phillips to Tufts and is now the head coach at the Willison Northampton School. "Brett Phillips truly embodies that motto. Although he is obviously a great football player, it is the type of person that he is that has made the biggest impact for the Tufts Football program."
|Between Wilton (Conn.) High School and Tufts, Brett Phillips has been elected a team captain three times|
One of the best displays of Phillips' character came with how he handled the most difficult experience of his time at Tufts. In the first start of his career at free safety against Wesleyan last season, he drove his shoulder into the ground while attempting a tackle. He immediately knew something wasn't right.
The diagnosis was a torn labrum, torn rotator cuff, and dislocated shoulder. Upon dislocating the shoulder, all of the nerves in his arm had been damaged.
"We got to the sideline and eventually popped the shoulder back in," he said. "But after the shoulder had gone back in, I had lost control of my wrist and my fingers and my entire arm was numb."
It would take three months for Phillips to get the use of his hand and fingers back, and six months for his arm to become fully functional. He worked diligently with Tufts athletic trainers Brett Hayes and Ryan Birchall, who used innovative treatments to get the nerves and muscles activated.
"They literally brought my hand back to life," Phillips said. "I never felt like I was in jeopardy of losing feeling for a long time, but as the weeks dragged on and it wasn't getting better people started to get a little concerned. They never showed that concern to me, but it was certainly a long road to getting that back."
The injury had occurred early in the semester. A Dean's List student and New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) All-Academic Team honoree as a sophomore in 2015, the right-handed Phillips had to maintain his academic performance without the use of that arm. He did a lot of left-handed typing and even taught himself to write left-handed. Despite the inconveniences, he earned Dean's List for the sixth consecutive semester and was again named to the Academic All-NESCAC Team.
"Brett spent hours upon hours in the athletic training room working with Ryan and I on regaining sensation in his hand and fingers," Hayes said. "He had his good days and bad days throughout rehab, but Brett continued to persevere through any obstacle or challenge that was presented to him. It is easy working with an athlete like Brett - hard working, knowledgeable, very in-tune with his body, athletic, and a gentleman."
Elected a captain of the Jumbos this fall, Phillips hasn't shied away from contact in his return to the field. He's currently fourth on the team with 30 tackles, including a game-high 11 stops against Trinity College on October 14. His desire to compete comes naturally. He's one of four brothers who grew up in Wilton, Connecticut.
"It's built in competition from morning to night," Phillips said. "Playing football in the front yard with my brothers and competing with them has made me a better player and a better athlete through all our time together."
Brett's older brother Ryan has been one of his biggest influences. They played together at Wilton High School for one year before Ryan went on to play at UMass. Brett would go on to become a two-year captain at Wilton, where his experiences would factor into his decision to come to Tufts. The Warriors didn't win much, but they bonded together as underdogs against a very competitive schedule in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Conference.
He would see the same values in the Tufts Football program, which was mired in a long losing streak while he was being recruited. On the day of his visit to Tufts, the team was playing in support of the Alzheimer's Association. The gesture was in honor of Bernie Burns, father of then-senior and current assistant coach Corey Burns.
"As soon as I got on campus, as soon as I had my overnight, I knew that this was going to be the spot," Phillips said. "Even though they lost that game, being around the guys, being around Coach Civetti, it was about family, brotherhood, commitment to each other, all of the things that I looked for in a football team."
The wins would come. The Jumbos ended the losing streak and finished 4-4 in Phillips' freshman year. In 2015 Tufts recorded a 6-2 record and followed that with a 7-1 finish last year. This season they have shown themselves to be one of the most competitive teams in the conference once again. More importantly, Phillips is proud to be part of a senior class that showed its character by choosing Tufts when things weren't so great.
Phillips has also made the most of great academic opportunities at Tufts. He is a double major as a candidate for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Community Health and Psychology. He was recently accepted into the Tufts University School of Medicine's Master of Public Health Program. Over the summer he worked as a project assistant at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, the largest community health center in Massachusetts.
He is particularly interested in working to make mental health as big of a priority as physical health. He is influenced in this area by his mother Marni, who works as a program director in an adolescent unit at an in-patient psychiatric hospital.
"As well as dealing with four boys at home every day, she goes in and it's a pretty heavy job," Phillips said. "I think that passion and commitment to helping other people was something that I really looked up to. I wanted to follow through and do that myself."
Phillips also plays a leadership role as Vice President at Delta Upsilon Fraternity on campus, an opportunity that has allowed him to make connections with many other members of the Jumbo Athletics community.
"Brett is a leader in every sense of the word," Beaton said. "He not only gets the best out of himself, but also those around him. The effects of Brett's leadership will last well after his years wearing the brown and blue."
Written by Paul Sweeney, Director of Athletic Communications