College Football

North, Phillips enjoy championship season at Sam Houston State

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 5/20/21

Jaylen Phillips knew Sam Houston State was in for a special season. Though just a freshman, Phillips understood what a strong team culture looks like.

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College Football

North, Phillips enjoy championship season at Sam Houston State

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Jaylen Phillips knew Sam Houston State was in for a special season. Though just a freshman, Phillips understood what a strong team culture looks like.

He’d grown acclimated to exactly that at Katy High.

So, the former Tiger team captain was not surprised Sam Houston State ran through a 10-0 season this spring that resulted in the program’s first FCS national championship.

“Coming from Katy, where we were big on culture and everything, you can tell when the environment is good and you have a close-knit team that’s player-led, not just coach-led,” said Phillips, who played one snap on defense and six snaps on special teams in No. 2 Sam Houston State’s 23-21 win over No. 1 South Dakota State in the title game in Frisco on May 16. “That’s what I saw in this team. We had players who led the team more than coaches, and I feel like that put us over the top. You knew you could count on one another, and that’s real in college. I’ve heard stories where guys are jealous of other guys because they’re getting more playing time or starting or whatever. We have no egos at Sam Houston. We’re a team.”

Phillips was one of two Katy area players on the Bearkats’ roster this season. The other was redshirt freshman defensive back Daniel North, a former standout at Seven Lakes.

“It’s surreal, really,” North said of winning a national title. “We had a team meeting talking about how much of rarified air we’re in with what we did. We’re enjoying it.”

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Phillips, who played defensive end and linebacker, played in all 10 games, collecting 13 total tackles, five for a loss, one sack, one fumble recovery, one interception and one pass breakup. The 5-11, 180-pound North played four games, seeing spot time on special teams and defense.

“There’s no better feeling than getting to play for a championship,” Phillips said. “We had a really good team, so I never had doubts in my mind about us winning that game. The city of Huntsville really cares about the team. They’ve been waiting a long time for this to happen. It was a great experience, to say the least.”

The opportunity to win a championship and the camaraderie of the coaching staff led North to choose Sam Houston State during his recruitment as a Spartan. He credits the coaches for fostering a family-like atmosphere, which aided in the Bearkats overcoming adversity.

Sam Houston State did not have use of a locker room this season because its facility was being renovated. Players took their uniforms home and washed their own gear. On game days, they put on their pads and uniforms in the stands.

Because of the pandemic, players were tested for COVID-19 three times each week. Phillips was quarantined for two weeks for contact tracing. He was around a friend who tested positive for COVID-19, but Phillips tested negative.

“It was a long, annoying process,” Phillips sad. “But I feel like our whole staff did a really good job making sure we stayed safe. I feel like we did a pretty good job maintaining that issue.”

Players arrived on campus last June, preparing and working as if they would play their typical season in the fall. But the pandemic forced the delay of the season to the spring.

“We were just happy to play games and have the opportunity to compete for a championship,” North said. “We took the fall to fine-tune some things and get better on what we needed to do. I think it really paid off in the end.”

Phillips had an impressive fall camp. Because coaches told him he could expect playing time if he prepared and worked hard every day, he figured he’d play some as a true freshman.

Coaches raved about Phillips’ leadership abilities, and he said he grew substantially in that regard as he became more comfortable around his teammates.

“It was different, more challenging playing on a collegiate level,” Phillips said. “Everybody is on scholarship here, so everybody is good. It was a bit of an adjustment, but I felt once I was able to get settled in, I was able to play at a high level on the defense and special teams.”

Phillips’ toughest adjustment from high school to college did not come on the field. It was in time management, balancing football and classes.

“Once you get your schedule and routine, you’re able to move faster throughout your day,” Phillips said.

North improved throughout the season on being a better student of the game. He is better watching, studying and understanding film, knowing how to break down offensive tendencies and what to look at and when to look for it.

This summer, he plans to add weight and more definition in his upper body, while continuing to work on being more explosive.

“I feel like my role will be bigger next year,” North said. “The coaches have told me I’ve improved. I feel I’ll see some more playing time, and I’m real excited to go for a two-peat as well.”

Phillips and North were aware of each other as District 19-6A rivals in high school, but never talked much. That changed in Huntsville, where they developed a closer relationship, not only being from the same city, but also playing on the same side of the ball.

“I knew who he was, obviously, through football,” Phillips said of North. “But once I got here, I reached out to him and we’ve hung out a few times.”

Now they are promising prospects for a Sam Houston defense that is becoming known for its physicality and speed, two things Phillips and North provide in spades. If things work out the way they wish, they will bebig-time contributors in the Bearkats’ title defense.

“After the championship game, we gave each other a big hug and told each other we loved each other,” North said. “We’re good friends. We’re champions.”

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