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Q&A with John Phillips

Senior tight end John Phillips is one of the team’s captains this season. He was one of 11 Cavaliers to play as true freshmen three years ago when he played in all 12 games. Last season he was fifth on the team in receiving with 17 catches for 193 yards and two scores to rank ninth in the ACC in receptions and 10th in yards among tight ends. With the graduation of Tom Santi and Johnathan Stupar, Phillips will undoubtedly see those numbers increase this season. As the Cavaliers prepare for their season opener this Saturday at home against No. 3 Southern California, Phillips talks about the team’s training camp and the upcoming game vs. the Trojans.

Q: Are you satisfied with where the team is going into this game?
JP: I think we’re very happy with where our team is going into the first week. We worked really hard in training camp. We’ve got a lot of things defined for us and we’re trying to figure out who we are right now.

Q: What have you figured out about the team?
JP: We’re a tough team right now. We figured that out in training camp. We did a lot of things to make ourselves tough and real competitive. You’ve got to have a physical camp when you have a great team like USC coming in here in the first week.

Q: Watching film of USC, what kind of impressions do you get about their talent that is evident?
JP: We’re talking about USC so there is nothing to hide. They’re always one of the best teams in the country. As far as their defense goes, they’re real fast and they’re physical guys. They’re one of the best teams in the country every year and one of the best defenses in the country every year, so when you watch film you see what you expect to see, great athletes in great positions doing a lot of good things.

Q: The USC linebackers are probably the strength of the defense. What do they present in terms of a challenge?
JP: Their linebackers are great. They have two of the best linebackers in the country. I’ve watched a lot of film of (Brian) Cushing. He’s got great hands the way he spins off of blocks and makes plays. (And they have Rey) Maualuga, who is a big guy. They say he’s one of the next big linebacker at USC. He’s a downhill, big time hitter. (USC) is going to have great linebackers.

Q: How much do you look at the match-up with Rey Maualuga and say, it’s a personal challenge for me?’
JP: It’s a big challenge game for everybody at UVa. They’re one of the best teams in the country. This is going to be a hard game, a tough game to win. We’ve got to execute to the best of our ability to stay in their with these guys. They’re fast, they’re good and their linebackers are really talented. It’s going to be a challenge and I think we’re ready to step up to the plate.

Q: Even before you got into camp in the summer conditioning program, did people mention the USC game as motivation?
JP: We’re always about the next game. Ever since the Texas Tech game, USC’s been that next game. I think it’s been fresh in everybody’s mind. We’re always trying to work hard and get better.

Q: The team has not fared well in past season openers. Do you approach this one differently or is there stuff you try to address this time around?
JP: I think so. We came out really physical in our camp and trying to do a lot of things in camp to develop our team more than we have in the past. This year when we come out hopefully we’ll be a little more polished, a little bit more ready to go.

Q: Anything stand out about the UVa defense from where it started in training camp to where it is now?
JP: We’ve got a great defense. The best thing about our defense is we run all defenses. Coach (Al) Groh runs an NFL style team so we don’t just run the 3-4. We throw so many different things outevery possible blitz. Just going against that defense every day helps build our offense. If we can execute against them, then hopefully we can execute against a lot of other teams. That is the best thing about our defense, is they run so many different things, so many different blitzes and they shine every day out there in practice one way or another.

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