Run, Parker, Run: Phillips rushing at a torrid pace for Kernels through five games
Parker Phillips’ teammates call him slippery. His coaches call him speedy.
Combine the two attributes and opposing defenses have a problem. Yankton had a serious problem attempting to rein in Phillips on Friday and never found the solution. The Mitchell High School running back turned the turf at Joe Quintal Field into a one-man track meet.
He zipped between, around and past Buck defenders all night to the tune of 259 yards and five total touchdowns in a 45-42 win, but it was another day at the office as Phillips has gone from totaling 71 yards last fall to the Kernels’ top offensive weapon in five games this year.
“It was a lot of hard work over the offseason,” Phillips said. “I was in track and I lifted all summer. I was just ambitious because I wanted to start on varsity. That just motivated me to be the best I could.”
Phillips has racked up 854 yards and 11 touchdowns on 6.7 yards per carry through five games of his first varsity season. He has eclipsed 100 yards in four of those games and he has surpassed 200 in all three Mitchell wins this season.
Any comparisons to former Kernel star Spencer Neugebauer would be premature, but Phillips has 145 more yards than Neugebauer did through the first five games of his record-setting 2016 campaign.
Some compare Phillips to Neugebauer’s current teammate at Dakota Wesleyan University, Canova native Luke Loudenburg. It is not surprising given Phillips’ 5-foot-7, 155-pound frame, but Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde believes the comparisons end there.
“There are people that compare them,” VanOverschelde said. “It’s a size comparison and it’s a known commodity in the community. … The zone (blocking) and the movement up front just fits his running style.”
While Phillips may be diminutive in size, it does not match his running style. The junior uses quickness and vision to hit the edge or to find a cutback lane in Mitchell’s zone running scheme, and once he turns upfield, he displays his balance upon impact.
Like a pinball, Phillips has a tendency to bounce off would-be tacklers for extra yardage and the first defender rarely brings him down in the open field.
Classmate Wyatt Winter has been on both sides, attempting to tackle him as a defensive tackle during practices, but has preferred his role in opening holes as a right guard on offense the last two weeks.
“Anybody that tries to grab him is usually bigger,” Winter said. “He’s just a small guy that can move quick. He looks like he might be going one way and he’ll just juke the other -- it’s terrible.”
Mitchell hopes Phillips can remain just as frustrating for defenses during the final four games of the season in what is sure to be his toughest test to date. Beginning with Class 11AA No. 2 Brookings on Friday and No. 1 Pierre on Oct. 20, Phillips has a chance to prove his start is no fluke against a pair of defenses averaging fewer than 10 points per game.
“I’m not going to play any different,” Phillips said. “I just want to win games. I don’t want teams to underestimate (us) or overestimate other teams. I just go out there and play the game.”
As the schedule intensifies, don’t expect the Kernels to shy away from continuing to allow Phillips to shoulder most of the carries. He is averaging more than 25 rushing attempts per game, which has accounted for 46 percent of the offensive plays thus far.
“I’ve been pleased with his durability,” VanOverschelde said. “That’s always a question, especially when you’re running the number of times that he has.”