B.J. Phillips was South Carolina's top-rated high school quarterback back in November 2005, when he agreed to play college football at North Carolina.
"It was the best choice," Phillips said then.
Three seasons, several injuries, a position switch and a UNC coaching change later, Phillips says he does not regret that decision. But he's also ready for a new start to his college career, at The Citadel.
"I'm just excited to get a new life," Phillips said earlier this week. "It's a new beginning for me, and I hope we can do some special things at The Citadel."
A 6-5, 260-pound tight end — he switched positions as a redshirt freshman at UNC — Phillips is finishing up his business degree in Chapel Hill and counting the days until he can join the Bulldogs for fall practice Aug. 6. He will enter The Citadel as a graduate student with two seasons of eligibility remaining.
"I kind of had a difficult experience my first three years of college football," said Phillips, who played at Spring Valley High School in Columbia for former Citadel player Jimmy Noonan. "I don't regret my decision to go to North Carolina, but I kind of wish I had played more of a role on the team than I did. My future didn't really lay there."
Coming out of Spring Valley, where he played with current Bulldogs Andre Roberts, Erik Clanton and Jonathan Glaspie, Phillips' future as a quarterback seemed bright. He had followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Greg, who played QB at Spring Valley and at Navy, and was one of the top prospects in the state in 2006.
"B.J. was a very versatile player as a quarterback," said Noonan, now the coach at Wando High School. "At 6-5 and 240, he was a very physical player. He was very comfortable throwing on the run and excelled with the play-action passing game.
"Despite his size, he really ran the option well for us. He made very good decisions on his feet, and he rushed for more than 800 yards his senior year."
Phillips and Roberts, now an All-America receiver for the Bulldogs, led Spring Valley to the Class AAAA Lower State title game in 2005, where the Vikings lost to a Richland Northeast team that had six
Division I signees on its roster. John Bunting, then the coach at UNC, brought in Phillips in the Tar Heels' 2006 recruiting class and redshirted him that season.
But Bunting was gone after a 3-9 season in 2006, replaced by Butch Davis. And in the spring of 2007, Phillips broke his thumb and had to miss summer workouts, dropping him to the bottom of the QB depth chart as fall practice approached.
With a change in coaches and in offensive style, Phillips volunteered to switch to tight end in an effort to get on the field, then broke his collarbone midway through the 2007 season. In 2008, he played in only one game, against Duke.
"I always felt I'd be a quarterback in college," Phillips said. "But it got to the point where my competitive desire took over, and I got tired of standing around watching other people do things. I wanted to get on the field, and I went to the coaches and said, 'Is there anything I can do?' I actually proposed moving to tight end to get out there and help the team instead of holding a clipboard."
As his redshirt sophomore season drew to a close, Phillips began to consider his options. With course credits from high school and heavy summer school hours, he was in position to graduate in three years and play his final two seasons at another school.
"I called Coach Noonan and told him what I was doing," Phillips said. "I knew he had a lot of connections with colleges, and he began contacting people for me. And the coaches at North Carolina were very supportive and also contacted people for me.
"But Coach Noonan has a special connection with The Citadel, and he got the ball rolling there for me. I actually visited some other places, but The Citadel was the right place for me."
At tight end, Phillips will team with redshirt junior Alex Sellars to replace All-Southern Conference pick Taylor Cornett. As a grad student, he will not be a member of the Corps of Cadets, just like former grad-student transfers Jeff Klein, Willie Simmons and Tim Higgins, the son of Bulldogs coach Kevin Higgins. Tim graduated from Florida before playing for the Bulldogs, while Klein and Simmons earned degrees from Auburn and Clemson, respectively.
Phillips said he's already learned a lot about The Citadel from his three Spring Valley teammates, and he comes from a military family. His father, Wayne, is a retired fighter pilot; both of his grandfathers served in the military; and brother Greg is a Marine fighter pilot stationed in Beaufort.
"There are other guys on the team I already know and have developed a good relationship with," B.J. said. "I know it's not the ideal situation, but I don't think I'll have any problem fitting in. Being on a football team requires so much time, you are around the guys so much. We'll all be living football and spending most of our time together. I think it will work out fine."
Said Noonan, "B.J. has a great head on his shoulders and knows what he wants out of the future. Every kid goes into high school and college thinking they will play at the next level. Ultimately, what they want is just to play as long as they can, and B.J. has that chance at The Citadel."