By Zach Stipe, Director of Football Communications 

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Kyle Phillips had a breakout senior season in 2018 for the Vols. The Nashville, Tenn., native totaled 55 tackles, five sacks and eight TFLs, while starting all 12 games and capturing Tennessee’s Defensive MVP honor at the end-of-year banquet.

His top highlight came when he intercepted Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts in the third quarter on the Third Saturday in October, making the pick while engaged with an offensive lineman, before breaking four tackles and rumbling 27 yards for a touchdown.

That play perfectly summed up Phillips’ season and career, and it’s why he has a great shot at being selected at the 2019 NFL Draft this weekend (Thursday to Saturday) in Nashville.

Phillips showed off his athleticism, but also his heart.

Alabama had a commanding lead in the the third quarter, but the 6-4 277-pounder continued to play hard despite the score. And he surely wasn’t about to be tackled before scoring his first-career touchdown.

He was productive, versatile and worked his tail off at Tennessee.

“I never give up,” Phillips said. “No matter what the score is. We don’t look at the score. We play until the whistle. My mindset has always been to go hard each and every rep and each and every play. That’s just how I was built.”

Projections tab Phillips as the Volunteer with the best chance of being selected by an NFL team this weekend after his standout senior season and impressive performances at the East-West Shrine Game, the NFL Regional Combine Invitational in Kansas City, Mo. and his Pro Day in Knoxville.

Phillips, who graduated with a degree in sports management in three years from Tennessee and pursued a master’s degree as a senior, would be a high priority free agent signing for NFL teams if he is not selected.

“A lot of teams have shown interest in me,” Phillips said. “They really like my versatility. I can be a contributor right away. A lot of teams are thinking that I could be a third-day draft pick.

“Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt and his staff showed my versatility this year – being able to play at the end spot and being able to play inside. It allowed me to make a lot of plays.”   

Fellow defensive linemen Shy Tuttle and Alexis Johnson, defensive back Micah Abernathy, linebacker Jonathan Kongbo and graduate transfers Keller Chryst, a quarterback, and Madre London, a running back, are also hoping to hear their names called in the draft, and will likely sign NFL contracts this weekend.

While the NFL Draft will take place in downtown Nashville, Phillips will be close by at the house where he grew up. He will be spending time with friends and family, including his mother Teresa Phillips – the Director of Athletics at Tennessee State.

At the conclusion of the 2018 season, Phillips began training at XPE Sports in Boca Raton, Fla. where VFLs Derek Barnett and Rashaan Gaulden had also prepped for the NFL. There, Phillips focused on preparing for the East-West Shrine Game before readying himself for the Regional Combine and Pro Day.

The training produced impressive results.

Phillips ran a 40-yard dash in the 4.6s at 277 pounds.

“I had a really good week at the East-West Game that allowed me to open eyes for different teams and scouts,” he said. “Then, I backed it up at the regional combine, and did the same at my Pro Day.

“Any opportunity that came my way, I had to show my abilities.”  

Since his Pro Day at Tennessee in March, Phillips has split his time between Knoxville and Nashville, and continues to work out daily.

He is passionate about his university and the direction the football program is headed.

“This staff and Coach Pruitt have a great track record of developing players,” Phillips said. “They are great coaches and come from winning programs. The definitely instilled that winning attitude in me and my team. They have risen the expectations for us as players. Coach (Tracy) Rocker has done a great job of keeping us accountable. He is a coach that won’t settle.”

Phillips was a five-star recruit when he came to Tennessee in 2015. He battled injuries for much of his first two seasons, before starting seven games as a junior in 2017 and emerging as one of the Vols best players and unquestioned leaders in 2018.

He played for three defensive coordinators and three defensive line coaches.

“I kind of am an underdog, and I am kind of a guy that people wrote off,” Phillips said. “I had to work my way back up to prove I can play at the next level, and be a great player at the next level.”

Along the way, he earned his degree and collected numerous academic honors, including CoSIDA Google Cloud Academic All-District first-team accolades last fall.

The next chapter in his story begins this weekend. Phillips is naturally excited.

He is also reflective and thankful for his time on Rocky top.

“Tennessee is the best place to play college football,” Phillips said. “The atmosphere is unmatched. The passion of the fans is unmatched. It’s a place I can call home always. I will miss the atmosphere, the fans and ’Running through the T.’ I’m a VFL and I know I’m always welcomed back.

“I’m proud of what I’ve done at Tennessee, and I’m definitely going to miss it.”   

Reggie Cobb’s Son Will Announce 49ers Second-Round Pick on Friday 
The San Francisco 49ers announced that Reggie Cobb’s son, DeMarcus, will announce their second-round draft pick on Friday in Nashville.

The 49ers currently have the No. 36 overall pick in the second round.

Reggie Cobb passed away on Saturday morning at the age of 50. He was one of the top running backs in Tennessee history, leading the Vols in rushing in 1987 and 1988 and rushing for 225 yards against Auburn in 1989.

Cobb was a second-round pick in the 1990 NFL Draft and starred for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before returning to Tennessee to finish his degree in 1999. He was a longtime scout for the 49ers, who also announced they will leave a seat open in honor of Cobb in their draft room this weekend.

Two other Tennessee legends, Al Wilson and Jamal Lewis, are scheduled to announce draft picks on Friday, as well.  

Wilson is slated to announce the Denver Broncos’ second-round pick (No. 41), while Lewis is expected to announce one of the Baltimore Ravens’ two third-round picks (No. 85, No. 102).