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.”