By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD – Lawrence Phillips is among the best collegiate wrestlers in the country.
But, the 2013 Rockford Auburn graduate doesn’t take that distinction for granted.
“I know it’s something that can be taken away at any moment,” the St. Cloud State University junior said.
Phillips said his mindset comes from how he arrived at NCAA Division-II St. Cloud. He didn’t wrestle until his junior year at Auburn, which put him years behind some of his teammates who had been competing since they were 5 years old. At his first practice with the Knights, he realized a strong work ethic on and off the mat was the only way to catch up and be a serious competitor.
“With help from my high school wrestling coach Christopher Charbonneau, I put plans into action to teach me what hard work and discipline was and to not be afraid to take chances,” he said.
The plans paid off. Phillips finished his high school career as a two-time IHSA Sectional qualifier. At St. Cloud State, it was more of the same. He didn’t make a huge splash when he arrived the will in him that sparked his high school feats propelled the 6-foot, 3-inch Phillips to the among Division II’s best in the 285-pound weight class.
A redshirt junior, Phillips was 25-4 and ranked No. 12 in the country going into the D II Super Regionals. In the NCCA national tournament, he recorded 14 falls, good enough for second, while his Huskies took home the team championship.
Being part of another national championship team is certainly his goal for next season. But Phillips is like just about any athlete who competes in an individual sport. He’s after a title for his weight class, a crown signifying he’s beaten the best and walked off the mat as the No. 1 grappler in the land. From there, regardless of how 2019 unfolds, Phillips said it wouldn’t be fitting if he didn’t shoot for the top of the next level. That means he’ll be eyeing a trip to Tokyo in summer 2020.
“I want to take my chances on making the Greco-Roman Olympic team,” he said.
And like fellow Knight, NBA guard Fred VanVleet, who continues to remain rooted Rockford and give back to Rockford, not because he has to, but because it is where his career began, Phillips has a similar outlook. If not for the leaders who saw something in both athletes, their future as collegians may have taken a different path. And as with VanVleet, major college recruiters didn’t flock to Rockford to see Phillips compete. He just knew he was capable to move on to the next level and settled on a school that fit. He also realizes there are more athletes like him coming up than there are blue-chip stars who can punch their tickets to anywhere.
“I always come back to Rockford and give back to my community by training up-and-coming athletes – coaching and doing one-on-one sessions,” Phillips said. “I feel as though it’s very important for people to set an example for the younger kids coming up. I always think, ‘Where would I be without those role models coming up?'”
St. Cloud State also won Division II national team championships in 2015 and 2016 and placed second in 2017. R.
Facebook photo by Russell Jacobson