By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — You can look for them Saturday night in the stands at Indiana University’s Memorial Stadium: brothers Willy and Andrew Phillips and their mother, Janet, in a crowd of friends and relatives, all in attire identifying the crew as “Wahoosiers.”
“My mom went a little over the top and made group T-shirts,” Colter Phillips said with a laugh Wednesday morning.
Janet Phillips’ enthusiasm is understandable. This non-conference football game in Bloomington, Ind., will match the teams for which her middle two sons play: Virginia (1-0) and Indiana (0-1).
“We got a great group of family and friends coming out for the game,” Colter said, “and everyone’s just really excited to see both of us out there.”
In 2009, the Hoosiers visited Scott Stadium, where the Cavaliers hammered them 47-7. When Paul committed to Indiana in January 2010, the family knew the Wahoos were scheduled to play in Bloomington in 2011.
“I can’t believe that two years has gone by already,” Colter said.
A 6-6, 245-pound redshirt junior, Colter starts at tight end for the ‘Hoos. Paul is a 6-5, 240-pound redshirt freshman who plays the same position. Both graduated from Georgetown Prep in Rockville, Md.
“I would expect our playing styles to be pretty similar,” said Colter, but they’re not identical, he added. “I know he won’t admit to this, but he’s different because he’s smaller than me, and less good-looking. … He’d like to say he’s faster, but there’s no chance.”
During a typical week, Colter said, he and Paul talk every day. “This week it’s been a little quieter between each of us, because we’re trying to get focused and trying not to lead each other on with what we’re game-planning and stuff like that,” Colter said.
“It will be the kind of thing where after the game we won’t really talk about it for a while, but a couple months from now the trash will start to come from both sides. It’ll be a fun thing to be able to talk about.”
Paul did not play last weekend in Indiana’s season-opening loss to Ball State, and he’s not listed in the two-deep for Saturday night’s game. Colter started against William and Mary but left the game after suffering a lower-leg injury. Whether he’ll play against the Hoosiers is unclear, but Colter will be in Bloomington regardless.
“I wouldn’t even try to keep him off the plane to go play in this game,” UVa coach Mike London said Monday. “This game means a lot to him and his family.”
The Phillipses’ story is well-known to many college football fans. On Aug. 9, 2010, Bill Phillips — Janet’s husband and the brothers’ father — was killed in a plane crash in a remote section of Alaska. Survivors of the crash included Willy, the youngest of the four brothers.
Bill Phillips, a former football player at the University of Evansville, lives on in his sons.
Each brother is different, Colter said, “but at the same time we’re all really alike in the fact that we each hold the same values that my dad taught us at a really young age.
“He really did teach us how to treat other people and to really respect each other. Just having a quiet confidence with yourself, and with what you’re doing in life, is something that all four of us possess.”
That’s not to say harmony always reigned at the Phillips household in Darnestown, Md. But Bill Phillips had his ways of restoring the peace.
“I probably shouldn’t tell this story, because my brothers will get mad at me,” Colter said. “But there’s a tactic that my dad used to use. Growing up with a family of four boys, there’s a lot of disagreements and arguments that go down, so there was a lot of fighting … It got pretty crazy sometimes.”
So Bill Phillips devised a form of punishment he called Hug and Kiss, Colter said, “where if you got in a fight or a disagreement about something, he made you and whoever you had the problem with sit in our foyer with your arms around each other for 10 minutes or so. And at the end you had to kiss each other on the cheek. So that really made the fights start to diminish a little bit, because it was the worst to have to sit next to your brother and hold him in your arms and then give him a kiss on the cheek.”
Colter laughed. “That was not a favorite of the young Phillips boys at the time, but now looking back on it, it’s hilarious.”
A year ago, the brothers were scattered around the country. Now, all except Paul are living in Charlottesville.
In early June, Janet moved here with her oldest and youngest sons. Andrew, a Stanford alumnus, is in a one-year graduate program in UVa’s McIntire School of Commerce. Willy is an eighth-grader at St. Anne’s-Belfield School.
“It’s just been great to be able to see them really whenever I want to or need to,” Colter said. “But at the same time they understand that I’m really busy and won’t be able to see them all the time. They really respect that aspect, but overall it’s been really a great experience having them here, and I think they’re just having a great time being close to everybody. They just absolutely love Charlottesville, and all the people here have been really great and accepting and really kind.”
For Paul, “I think it might be a little harder, especially now, because he is more on his own,” Colter said. “But at the same time he’s a really strong kid, and he’s surrounded by a bunch of great people that are really helping him out.”
As head coach at the University of Richmond, London extended a scholarship offer to Paul. But when London replaced Al Groh at UVa in December 2009, Colter said, Virginia’s recruiting class for 2010 “was already filling up, and there really wasn’t enough room for [Paul].”
“He’s very happy with his decision to be a Hoosier,” Colter said. “I think he’s definitely at the right place.”