Andy Phillips

Former U.S. Alpine skier Andy Phillips stars for University of Utah football team

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U.S. Alpine skiing fans might take a particular interest in the University of Utah this season following its 30-26 opener win over Utah State on Thursday night.

The Utes’ standout was kicker Andy Phillips, a former U.S. Alpine skier who had never played competitive football before the opening kickoff. The redshirt freshman went 3-for-3 on extra points and on field goals, connecting from 45, 19 and 38 yards out.

The final two kicks came in the fourth quarter, putting Utah ahead and icing the game with 19 seconds left. He also converted an onside kick and earned the game ball, according to KSL.com.

“Oh man, what a thriller,” he told the Deseret News. “It’s just an honor being out there with these guys. These guys fight and they have a lot of faith in me.”

Think he felt pressure? Perhaps not. Phillips, 24, was an accomplished skier, having grown up on the slopes in Utah and spending five years on the U.S. Ski Team into 2011. Phillips earned a pair of third-place finishes in Nor-Am Cup races (2007, 2010) and was fifth in the slalom at the 2007 World Junior Championships.

Phillips also grew up playing soccer, easing the transition when he walked on in 2012.

“He’s a downhill racer,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told the Deseret News. “You talk about toughness. He’s got some wipeouts on YouTube that are unbelievable.”

Phillips detailed to the newspaper how he picked up football after he decided to stop skiing:

“It actually all started with a family Thanksgiving football game where my brother and I were trying to beat each other out for longest field goal,” said Phillips. “Then all of a sudden a New Year’s resolution came that I should make a Pac-12 team and try and be a kicker. So I worked my guts out and (Utah special teams) coach (Jay) Hill gave me an opportunity and I just jumped on it.”

Phillips told Hill that he always wanted to play football and was given a shot last fall. He impressed Hill by having a “good pop” on the ball when he connected with it. In the spring, Hill said Phillips went through a period of refinement as they honed in on his technique.

Whittingham told ESPN he put as much pressure as he could on Phillips in preseason practice to simulate game situations.

“Whether it’s, Andy, if you make this kick, we’re not running. If we miss it, we’re running eight gassers or whatever the case may be, then, he’s responded in those situations,” he said.

Phillips said he gets the same thrill playing football as he did ski racing, but there is one very noticeable difference.

“Probably everyone just showering together,” he joked to ESPN. “In skiing, you travel with an elite group of people, 10 or 15 at the max, and so you’re in your own private place, in your own world. Here, everything’s exposed in the locker room.”

Olympic champion’s van collides with moose

Ragan Smith, after watching in Rio, leads P&G Championships

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Ragan Smith could do nothing more than watch in Rio as the Final Five dominated. The roles reversed at the P&G Championships on Friday night.

Smith, a Rio Olympic alternate, easily topped the all-around standings on the first of two nights of competition that will determine national champions.

Oh, and Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez were among those in the Honda Center crowd in Anaheim.

It’s the beginning of a new era for U.S. women’s gymnastics. None of the Rio Olympians are competing this weekend, but all five could come back for a Tokyo 2020 run.

For now, the spotlight is on Smith.

“It’s kind of nice, like, having a new generation coming up,” Smith, who is coached by 1992 Olympic bronze medalist Kim Zmeskal Burdette, said on NBCSN. “I think it’s a little less pressure, but I still kind of feel like it’s the same because I had no idea what was going to happen last year.”

The 17-year-old Texan leads by 1.3 points over Riley McCusker going into the final day Sunday (7 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app). Full scores are here. A four-woman team for October’s world championships will be named after a camp later this summer.

Smith overcame minor flaws on her first routine — uneven bars — and more significant ones on her next — balance beam. A solid floor exercise and vault gave her a first-day lead six tenths shy of Biles’ average margin from 2013 through 2016.

The second- and third-highest scores Friday actually came from the earlier junior division. With no team event at this year’s worlds, senior depth is less necessary.

Smith, after just missing the Rio Olympic team in her first year as a senior gymnast, won the AT&T American Cup on March 4 despite a beam fall. That made her the favorite this week.

The rest of the field — with no Olympians for the first time since 2008 — could not keep pace Friday. Smith’s top challengers coming in were McCusker and Morgan Hurd.

McCusker, who shares a coach with Hernandez, reeled back some difficulty. She was on crutches with a cast on her wrist in early July.

Hurd, a first-year senior who competes in glasses, took two out-of-bounds steps and sat down on back-to-back floor exercise passes.

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Simone Biles says she’s back in the gym (video)

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Simone Biles is back in the gym.

In between giggles, Biles said she returned to the gym two weeks ago in an NBCSN interview at the P&G Championships in Anaheim on Friday night.

“I actually started, like, two Fridays ago,” Biles said. “I’m weak. But I’m coming back. I’m just doing conditioning and basics right now.”

Biles last competed at the Rio Olympics, winning five medals, including four golds, for the greatest single-Games medal haul by a female gymnast in nearly three decades. That came after Biles swept every U.S. and world all-around title in that four-year Olympic cycle.

The 20-year-old said late last year and early this year that she planned to return to training in late 2017 or early 2018 with an eye on Tokyo 2020.

“It’s OK to sit out one [year],” Biles said. “I can’t imagine being out on the floor now.”

Biles has not set a return to competition. Her longtime coach, Aimee Boorman, moved from Texas to Florida after Rio.

If Biles makes the Tokyo 2020 team, she can attempt to become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion since the late Czech Věra Čáslavská in 1964 and 1968.

Gabby Douglas attempted this feat in Rio but did not qualify for the all-around final.

Douglas said earlier this month that she has not decided whether she will return to competition.

Aly Raisman said in September that she plans to return to training after taking 2017 off. Laurie Hernandez said she hopes to go for 2020 but has not set a return to training.

Madison Kocian is the lone member of the Olympic team who has competed since Rio, but it wasn’t on the elite stage. The Texan did a full freshman season for UCLA with a torn labrum and partially torn rotator cuff in her shoulder.

Kocian said in June that she has not decided if she will return to elite gymnastics.

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P&G CHAMPS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
TV Schedule | Final Five Updates