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No one is selling Phillips short anymore

Cam Phillips was the best football player at a high school far more famous for its basketball. Despite setting school records for receptions and receiving yards at Virginia Tech, he went undrafted by the National Football League.

But, these days, no one is selling Phillips short. After three weeks, he is firmly established as the XFL’s best wide receiver. In fact, he may even be the league’s best player, period. He was just named the Star of the Week for the second week in a row. After a whirlwind, three-game start, Phillips leads the league in every receiving category. He has 20 receptions, for 324 yards and seven touchdowns for the Houston Roughnecks, the league’s only unbeaten team.

“Going through training camp, I thought I might be able to do something like this later in the season,’’ said Phillips, who had 194 rushing yards and three touchdowns in last week’s victory against Tampa Bay. “But I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. I thought something like this might happen after gaining the trust of my teammates.’’

“This offense (the run and shoot) is so different,’’ said Houston receivers coach A.J. Smith. “Receivers have to re-learn everything they ever learned before. It takes time. But, after a couple weeks, I could tell Cam had bought in fully and was going to be special. You could see that he and (quarterback) P.J. Walker were building something special.’’

P.J. Walker goes deep to find Cam Phillips for 6

The trust was there from the start and Phillips, 6-foot and 200 pounds, credits Walker, who leads the league with 748 passing yards and 10 touchdowns.

“It’s weird that we’ve bonded so quickly, but it started in training camp,’’ Phillips said. “I can look at him and know he’s throwing to my back shoulder or wherever. I know his tendencies and he knows mine.’’

But things haven’t always come so easily for Phillips. Start with high school. Phillips was an outstanding football player, but he played in the shadows of one of the most famous basketball schools in the country – DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville, Md. Still, Smith was good enough to earn a scholarship to Virginia Tech.

There, he excelled. But he admits he made a mistake his senior year, playing with a sports hernia on each side of his body for most of the season. Phillips had surgery after the season, but said trying to come back too soon prevented him from being drafted in 2018.

“I wasn’t fully healed, but I worked out at pro day,’’ Phillips said. “But I didn’t do well at all. I think that’s why teams stay from me.’’

Phillips signed with the Buffalo Bills in 2018 and spent time on the practice squad before spending three weeks on the active roster. He returned to Buffalo’s training camp in 2019, but there were no miracles. He failed to make the roster and wasn’t picked up by anyone else.

But he got an invitation in October to play in the XFL and jumped at the chance. He’s thrived in coach June Jones’ run-and-shoot offense.

“This offense elevates players, especially receivers if they truly buy into it,’’ Smith said. “Cam has totally bought in and has taken his game to new heights.’’

With the new heights has come celebrity status. Phillips appreciates that bought doesn’t want to get too caught up in his new-found fame.

“I appreciate the fans,’’ Phillips said. “But I’ve limited myself to 20 minutes on social media a day. I want to stay focused and be the best receiver I can. I have to remain humble and block out the noise. My goal is to be as good as I can be and get back to the NFL someday.’’

“Someday’’ isn’t far off,’’ Smith said. “I can see him in the NFL 1,000 percent next season. He’s shown he’s a special player and he can be a special player in the NFL. He has all the potential in the world.’’