Paradise Product: Marcus Phillips Jr.

Marcus Phillips Jr. lining up on offense during UNLV's game against San Jose State. Photo by Jordan Anders-McClain.

The hometown hero story began when Marcus Phillips Jr. entered the Fertitta Football Complex as a walk-on in 2019. 

After earning his spot on the roster during spring training of that year, Phillips would soon be a key player in UNLV’s first win in two seasons. 

“Growing up, at least for me, it wasn’t in my original plan to be a UNLV Rebel but as I was in high school and as it was growing closer to me,” Phillips said. “It’s like ‘why not be a hometown hero?’ and get that opportunity to change the vibe of the city.”

“Growing up here, it’s not known as a football town. Me, loving Las Vegas, I wanted to be sort of a hometown hero and have a dream come true story out here playing for UNLV.”

The Las Vegas native would get that special moment on Nov. 6, 2021, when UNLV football traveled to Albuquerque to play the Lobos of New Mexico.

The Rebels had not won a game in 706 days and with the game tied 7-7 in the second quarter, quarterback Cameron Friel would step back on third-and-11 throwing a 15-yard spiral to Phillips.

Kue Olotoa (81) celebrating Marcus Phillips Jr. (86) after he scored his first touchdown in New Mexico. Photo by Jordan Anders-McClain.

Phillips would catch the ball and run it into the endzone to put UNLV up one score, Phillips would be celebrated by teammate Kue Olotoa soon after since it was Phillips’ first career touchdown as a Rebel.

Making the moment more memorable, the play call was not intended for Phillips to score the touchdown and without an offside call given to the Lobos defense, the play could have never happened. 

“Scoring my first touchdown versus New Mexico was extremely phenomenal. I was on the backside, I wasn’t even supposed to get the ball this play,” Phillips said. “I was like the third read, thankful to Cameron Friel who went through his progressions and the o-line for holding up their blocks long enough for him to get to his progression.”

“I wish it was at home but a touchdown is a touchdown. It was a valuable game, it was early in the game, it also gave us the lead. That just spoke for the 200 days it took for me to get that touchdown.”

“I was in my junior year of college after three years of going through the process of the walk-on stuff and two years on the team, one year being a redshirt and the next year being the COVID year, so this was my first year of actually playing.”

UNLV would end up winning the game 31-17 and earning their first win in two seasons. 

Before it came full circle for Phillips last season, the journey all started when he was in the third grade, playing for a little league football team here in Las Vegas. 

“I feel like I was born to play football, my father was a very noble high school football player in Louisiana. My first team was in third grade, and my pops was one of my coaches.”

Phillips started as a running back, where kids in little league usually start as either a quarterback or running back. 

“I was a running back in little league and a middle linebacker,” Phillips said. “As I grew into middle school football, I used to play safety, middle linebacker, and corner, and by the time eighth grade came I transitioned from running back to receiver because I had a late growth spurt.”

With learning many different offensive and defensive positions, Phillips also built long-term friendships with the kids he started playing with. 

“The earliest memory I have of playing football, something funny is that my first quarterback playing football was my best friend, Fairs Gardner, he was my first little league quarterback and I was a running back,” Phillips said. 

“We would just run around and it was a lot of fun. I remember being at games and my dad would stand at a spot in the endzone or stand by the touchdown and the goal would be for me to make it to him somehow.”

“I used to always make some type of line to make it to him, whether it be zig-zagging, circling, juking dudes, breaking a lot of tackles, I would get to him somehow, someway.”

Despite playing football from around the age of eight, Phillips transitioned to focusing and playing basketball in high school. 

“I was a basketball and football player year-round, but mostly basketball,” Phillips said. “I played AAU in the offseason, I also played for my high school basketball team, varsity. I was actually on varsity basketball sooner than I was on varsity football.”

It was because of his commitment to basketball during his senior year that only allowed him to attend two all-star football practices ahead of the annual Lions Club Charity All-Star Football Game. 

During the game, Phillips would catch two touchdown passes to lead his team to a 21-6 victory, because of his offensive and defensive performance he was named the game’s MVP over the 76 other all-stars. 

After the All-Star game and his senior season, where Phillips averaged 13.2 yards per catch with 26 receptions and 3 touchdowns, Phillips was ready for the next level. He waited for the offers to come in but they never did, which led him to the decision of walking on to UNLV. 

“The process of walking on was very unfortunate, it’s a series of events that takes time,” Phillips said. “In high school, I got the All-Star game MVP, first-team wide receiver, second-team defensive back.”

“At this point, I’m like ‘a team is going to pick me up,’ like there’s no way and I’m thinking I’m in good hands. It didn’t happen and I didn’t get a D1 offer, so I really had to sit back and think about what I was going to do.”

Phillips would ultimately decide to stay home and enroll at UNLV and start the journey of becoming a walk-on for the football team.

“It was a long year before I actually made the team. Once my summer completed, it was August where I was fully enrolled into UNLV and they were in fall camp,” Phillips said. “I was that guy that would go up to the facility and sit outside of the facility for hours… I was begging to get at least a tryout or at least a look, for people to look at my film.”

“I was begging to get to Tony Sanchez, I even sent various emails to Tony Sanchez, stating that I would be a video guy for them, I would even do laundry for them, I was trying anything I could to at least get around the team or team environment and nothing happened for me.”

“In late August, luckily I ran into the receiver coach and he knew of me briefly because of the All-star game, he was shocked that I didn’t sign with another team. So he sent me to the recruiter and this was August 23, literally two days before school started.”

“The recruiter said sorry our roster is full, you’ll have to come back in February to actually try out, so I had a long 6-8 months of just watching the team play and being left out and being questioned by friends and family on why am I not playing football still.”

Phillips would come back in the spring and earn a spot as not only a walk-on but the team barber. 

“Cutting hair is kind of like my side hustle,” Phillips said. “I always used to cut my own hair, started doing that about the ninth grade to save my family money.”

Phillips was given his own space inside the Fertitta Football Complex where he can cut teammates’ hair while he plays his last season for UNLV. 

Going into his final season as a Rebel, Phillips stated, “I’m looking forward to flipping the script and getting into the bowl game for once and getting some rewards for winning a football game, that’s how the bowl games go.”


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