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Harrison Phillips: Born to Be a Nose Tackle

DT Harrison Phillips
DT Harrison Phillips

EAGAN, Minn. — Harrison Phillips bawled like a baby.

A nearly 11-pounds-at-birth with record-setting-length baby.

The ink was dry on his second NFL contract, and he did his best to keep it that way, but the emotions Thursday of signing with Minnesota overwhelmed him.

"Obviously getting drafted four years ago was a huge accomplishment, but as you guys know, in this league, it's the next one that really, really changes your life forever," Phillips said Thursday afternoon. "And in the process that it happened and all the cool ties I already have here to Minnesota, it was really emotional. I just sat there before I signed my name the last time and the tears were rolling. I was trying not to let 'em drip on the contract; I didn't want to smear any ink or anything."

Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who signed his own contract less than two months ago, saw Phillips immediately after the signing.

"That is a cool moment and something I forgot, like seeing me two months ago. He was overwhelmed, his emotions," Adofo-Mensah said. "He's a big guy, but you also see the little kid inside of him, the 14-year-old that lifted all those weights and did all those sprints and did everything to get him here. It was a really cool moment, and I hope he talks about it with you guys. A special moment, a special human, and we're really excited to have him here."

Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell explained how Phillips was noticed early by the Vikings as they were evaluating prospective free agents.

"Harrison is someone we identified very early in this. He's someone we thought would be foundational to our new 3-4," Adofo-Mensah said. "Disruptive in both phases, the run and the pass. A really incredible player, and we're so happy to have him."

O'Connell noted that it is sometimes hard to fully see the impact that nose tackles have, but the former quarterback said he always evaluate whether he sees a player who "disrupts the game."

"You turn on the tape and you see this guy impacting the run game, impacting the pass game. He's versatile – the strength, his ability, play strength," O'Connell said. "Obviously he looks the part. He looks like a really strong guy, but then you see him transition that and it shows up play after play on tape. He's got that same personality where the energy and that defensive group all together got better for a lot of reasons."

Phillips was introduced at the same time as new Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks, who was able to agree on a deal Tuesday because he had previously been released by the Cardinals. The two were able to have dinner together Wednesday night and go through multiple introductory steps together Thursday.

View photos of new Vikings DT Harrison Phillips who joined the team during free agency.

Phillips made it clear he prioritizes doing his job correctly, which often involves freeing up linebackers to make plays. Hicks is expected to join Eric Kendricks as inside linebackers with the Vikings transitioning to more 3-4 principles this season.

"Super excited that [Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell] saw the value in me. Obviously the player and, [O'Connell] mentioned it, not a lot of nose guards get a lot of pub out there," Phillips said. "I like to call my position the fire hydrant at the dog show. You know, you've got a role. You're the guy who's going to get pissed on, but hey – you've got a role, and you've got to do that to the best of your ability.

"I saw we signed Jordan, and I got his number, shot him a text, said, 'Hey, my job is to keep you clean. I'm gonna get you to some Pro Bowls, but you're gonna have to miss 'em because we're gonna be still playing on,' you know? But I'm super excited, so humbled to be here," Phillips added.

When on his football journey did he adopt the mentality of a nose guard?

"Well I think I signed up for when I was born at like 11 pounds, probably," Phillips quipped. "When you're young and you're the biggest guy on the field, you can just go all over. But I think it actually wasn't until Stanford that I realized like, 'Hey, we're competing for a national championship, Pac-12 titles, big-time football games, and if I swing out of my gap one time to try to go make a play, these all-conference running backs can [make] one cut and gash you for a touchdown.

"Being right in the middle of the defense, I'm the closest person to the ball every snap. And there's a lot of responsibility," Phillips added. "[I have to] be disciplined and say, 'Hey, I know this is my job. I know the ball is going over there, but I have to maintain this gap in case of a cutback like that. You're not going to get glorified or a pat on the back for that, but that's team defense and that's how you finish."

But wait, were you really 11 pounds?

"I think just under it, but I broke the record for length at Clarkson Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska — either 24 or 26 inches. I was a C-section, so thank you, Mom."

Phillips said his mother is nicknamed "The Purple Lady" and loves the color. She also provided his nickname, "Horrible Harry."

"Horrible Harry came actually in elementary school but didn't really get real talked about until college," Phillips said. "My mom used to read me Horrible Harry children's books, like Junie B. Jones books or whatever, and it really stuck when there was a book about Horrible Harry at recess got a snake and brought it into school. I actually [had] done that two years prior when I was kindergarten. I found a snake at a recess, brought it into the school and [was] just being a naughty little kid. And so it stuck there.

"Then at high school — we're from Omaha, Nebraska, so small-towny feel, everybody knows everybody. I think my mom shared that story with someone who ended up being the PA announcer at our games. So, 'Horrible Harry on the tackle. Horrible Harry on the sack,' " Phillips continued. "And then it got to college and the announcers there and now in the NFL. When Twitter came out, I think I just went out and made the caption because it was already going at that point, but that's only my on-the-field mantra. I'm not a bad man, but sometimes I have to do what a bad man might do but that's only on the white lines right?"

Phillips, in fact, was nominated by the Bills in each of the past two seasons for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award and in 2020 was nominated for the NFLPA Alan Page award for his work in the community.