Alabama's former top quarterback on sidelines, remains firm in faith

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (BP)--At the conclusion of a recent University of Alabama football game, backup quarterback John David Phillips made his way, like he does after every contest ­- win or lose -­ to the center of the field. Once there, he kneeled, took the hand of an opposing player, bowed his head and began to thank God in prayer.

Since being demoted to second string after only the fourth game of the season, many might question Phillips' thankfulness -­ especially after the four long years of patiently waiting and preparation that led up to this, his final year to play for the Crimson Tide.

Phillips, a fifth-year senior, was named Alabama's starting quarterback Aug. 21, two weeks before the Tide's season opener against Brigham Young. Four games, 112 plays, 46 completions (out of 84 attempts) for 429 yards and one touchdown later, that job was lost.

"Today, I had to take on a different role," said Phillips, "J.D." to friends, after the Oct. 3 Florida game, in which red-shirt freshman Andrew Zow took over the starting role. "My job was to keep everybody [on the sideline] in the game and follow Coach [Stubbs]."

Some might wonder why Phillips has chosen not to voice displeasure over losing the starting job.

There's a good reason for that. There's more to John David Phillips than just being a football player.

"God is why I have everything I do," said Phillips, who was voted by teammates earlier this year as the winner of the 1998 Charlie Compton award, presented annually by Calvary Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa where he attends, to the player who most displays outstanding Christian leadership. Also selected as one of five permanent team captains for the Tide in 1998, Phillips understands his purpose is not centered around his actions on the playing field.

"I have to remember that God put me here," Phillips said, adding with all the hype that surrounds football in the tradition-rich Southeastern Conference, "It could be real easy to lose my focus."

But Phillips hasn't. From his impressive showing in the much-anticipated opening matchup against Brigham Young Sept. 12 (hitting on 17 of 29 passes for 188 yards while leading the Tide to five scoring drives) to the frustrating performance against Florida, where he was benched after completing only one of four passes and being sacked seven times, Phillips' faith in and relationship with Christ has remained constant.

"I know who's in charge," said Phillips, who as a first-grader asked Jesus to come into his heart. "I try to make sure everything I do glorifies God." That includes time away from athletics, where Phillips puts in just as many hours in the library as on the practice field. Having already earned his degree in public relations, Phillips, twice named to the Academic All-SEC team, is enrolled in graduate school.

Phillips was recruited by such big-time college programs as Florida State and Tennessee during his high school years in Anniston, Ala., where he is a member of Parker Memorial Baptist Church.

"I know that God is teaching me something through this," he said. For now, Phillips must perform the familiar task of waiting his turn. And he understands this means not only keeping himself mentally and physically prepared to step back into the huddle and direct the offense, but also trusting in God's will.

Phillips finds his peace in God's Word, especially a verse he includes in every autograph signed, Romans 12:12. "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer" (NIV).

And despite the loss of support and the top spot on the depth chart, Phillips hasn't allowed the situation to rob him of his joy of being a Christian.

"I didn't hear the boos," Phillips said after the Florida game. "I play for an audience of one. I play for God."

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