Bainbridge running back Keenan Phillips announces verbal commitment to James Madison University

Published 7:24 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

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Keenan Phillips verbally committed to play at James Madison University Tuesday night. 

“It feels like my hard work has paid off,” Phillips said. 

The commitment is a long time coming. Kenyatta Phillips, Phillips’ father, said this is something Phillips has wanted since he was a child.

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“His exact words at five years old was that he wanted to be a five-star recruit and play division one football.” Phillips’ father said.

“I wanted to be a five-star. But three stars, I’ll take it,” Phillips said jokingly. 

Phillips admitted JMU was initially low on his list of offers, but continued interest from the school’s running backs coach, John Miller, and taking an official visit to the university made Phillips realize it was the right spot for him.

“Coach Miller was texting me every day throughout the week, track meets he was always congratulating me through everything,” Phillips said. “We started building a relationship. Then, when I went on my visit… that place just felt like home.” 

Phillips will be joining a JMU running back room of six potential returning players. He said the coaching staff told him he has “a good chance of being in the rotation of playing” in his first year on the team. 

“That kind of bought me,” Phillips said.

Phillips was excited to get to the announcement day. 

“People are already asking me questions,” Phillips said. “I’m kind of bad at keeping secrets, so it’s hard for me. I’m kind of lying to everybody.”

For the majority of Phillips’ career, he’s been told he wouldn’t get to where he’s at now. Phillips said he’s always been discounted because of his size. Standing 5’8”, 175 lbs, he’s come a long way since starting middle school football at 4’11” and 68 lbs, according to his father.

“When everybody said I was too small, it just gave me a chip on my shoulder to work even harder,” Phillips said. “It feels good to prove everybody wrong.”

Phillips said his size was a deciding factor of other schools giving him an offer or not. 

“That moment right there was when I flipped the switch,” Phillips said. “Running hard was not just something I wanted to do. It was something I had to do… just because I’m short doesn’t mean I’m not physical and can’t play at the next level.”

Bainbridge head coach Jeff Littleton watched Phillips develop as a player of 4’11” stature in middle school.

“A lot of people think that they’re so small in middle school that they’re never going to amount to anything,” Littleton said. “That’s just not true. He’s the prime example of that.”

Phillips rushed for more than 2,000 yards in his first three years and is on pace to rush for more than 1,500 yards in the regular season this year. He said he’s had a strong support group through his entire football journey.

“There has probably never been anything he’s participated in where he hasn’t had the support of us and his grandparents,” said Tandria Phillips, Phillips’ mother. “If there was ever any reason I couldn’t be there, his grandmother was going to be there.”

Phillips said aunts, uncles, and other relatives pitched in to take him to games and be there to support him if his parents weren’t able to.

“One of my family members was always filling in for them, making sure I have a fan club everywhere I go,” Phillips said. “Especially after scoring and I can hear my grandma yelling my name, my government name.”

The Dukes will be getting a complete back on the field, and an all-around good person off of it. Phillips is also enrolled in multiple AP classes this year, and Littleton said he works as hard in the classroom as he does on the football field.

“I’ve had so many people say to me, ‘I hope my children grow up to be just like Keenan,’” Phillips’ mother said. “I’m grateful for the support he has gotten from his teachers, his family, and the community. We’re so grateful that so many people see him as he is.”

The next step for Phillips will be signing a National Letter of Intent (NLI). Signing the NLI will make Phillips’ agreement with JMU official. National signing day is Wednesday, February 7th, 2024.

“If [JMU] is still the school I’m locking in, I’m just ready to work and set new goals to make it to the league,” Phillips said.