• Tabor’s record-setting Robert Phillips is looking for a good outdoor season and an even better life.
When he steps into the shot put ring to compete for Tabor College, Robert Phillips doesn’t over think it. He knows his preparation has made him ready.
“I breathe,” Phillips said. “A lot of people, they get into the ring, they want to think about what they’re supposed to do in the ring, but we’ve taken over 10,000 throws. If we don’t know how to throw by now, there’s something wrong.”
That’s 10,000 times Phillips has stepped into the ring and fixed his gaze on the target, then turned around, placing the 16-pound sphere against his neck with his right hand, his left arm extended. Spinning, his feet follow the motion they’ve been trained to do in order to launch the shot put forward with velocity and strength.
“The point isn’t to be as technical as possible,” he said. “It’s to focus on throwing it as fast as you can and as hard as you can. I take that approach on every throw, even if it’s the first throw of the competition. Just throw fast, throw hard (and) your feet are going to come.”
This repetition in training has driven Phillips’ success. The San Diego, Calif., native threw a school-record 48 feet, 41⁄2 inches at the KCAC Indoor Championships in early February and is the reigning indoor shot put champion.
With the outdoor season already in progress, Phillips is not done yet. He has his sights set on an outdoor championship, not only in shot put, but also in discus.
From football to track
Track did not become Phillips’ main focus, he said, until high school. He grew up playing youth football, joining the track and field team when he was 13 to stay strong during the off-season.
“I ended up going to the Junior Olympics and placing third,” he said.
Phillips won a football championship with his high school team at Helix Charter, but he admitted his focus was shifting to track and field as his chosen sport to pursue in college. At the time, he ranked among the top five shot put throwers in San Diego.
Phillips won the league title as a junior, having put in work all summer by walking the two miles to school and back to practice.
“That’s never been won by a junior before,” he said. “Usually only the seniors win because they’re the most seasoned and have the better technical skill. But that whole summer, (I was) just working hard.”
He graduated from Helix Charter in 2013, then spent a semester at Humboldt State University before transferring to Southwestern, a junior college closer to his home in San Diego. After a year there, Phillips still felt unsettled.
“I was just praying to God, and I said, ‘Lord, I really want you to put me somewhere,’ and he told me, ‘I’ll get you somewhere, but you’re not going to be comfortable,’” Phillips said. “At the time, I had no clue what that meant.”
That’s when the recruiting phone calls started coming in—Friends, Bethel, Tabor—all Kansas schools. Phillips made his decision without visiting any of them. The scales tipped in favor of Tabor when football was put on the table as an option.
“I just prayed and said, ‘Lord, where do you want me to go?’ and Tabor was always on my mind,” he said. “Then I got a call from the football coach at Tabor, and they asked me if I wanted to do both sports. That’s what led me here—both programs were very interested in me.”
When Phillips came to Tabor for the 2015-16 season, he decided to focus solely on track and field. The highlight of his first outdoor season with the Bluejays was placing second in the shot put at the KCAC meet, despite having fractured his wrist three weeks before.
“When I got to conference, my wrist was still fractured, but we were on a mission,” he said. “We had Jonathan Gibson, Johnny Loera and Dan (Quiring), and we were all competing, so I didn’t want to let the wrist hinder me. I just taped it up, ignored it and threw.”
All four throwers placed among the top seven in the shot put at the meet.
That summer, Phillips returned to California and won at the Cal State games—he was competing unattached—then agreed to see a doctor, who put his wrist in a splint for six weeks. He returned to Tabor last fall for his second year and was able to remove the splint after a week.
While shot put is Phillips’ main focus with discus next in line, he has added the hammer to his repertoire this season
The highlight of his career thus far came at the indoor KCAC meet, he said. Phillips’ first two throws in the shot put solidified a spot in the finals, and he broke the school record on his third throw of the day.
It surprised him, he said, because the throw was not technically sound.
“My release was off,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh man, I didn’t (break the record) yet. Then my teammate Dan was like, ‘Well, look where it landed,’ and it was 14.74 (meters). Then I started crying because if the throw felt good and I broke it, I would’ve been very hyped, but the throw was not a good throw and I still broke the record. That caught me by complete surprise.”
That mark held through finals, earning Phillips the gold medal.
“None of us really did that well in finals,” he said. “I think it was just because I was still mind-blown that I broke that record, and (I) ended up winning the KCAC. It was an inspiring weekend, really got me ready for outdoor season.”
Winning the title and setting Tabor’s record has only fueled Phillips’ fire.
“When you work for something really hard and that’s your main focus, then you do it, that’s the best feeling in the world,” he said. “When I broke the record, it’s like, ‘OK, well what’s next?’”
Phillips is seeking not only the outdoor shot put title, but a discus championship as well.
If track and field wasn’t enough to keep Phillips busy, he’s also involved in other areas on campus, both athletic and non-athletic.
In addition to track drills, Phillips is participating in spring training with the football team—he’s a left tackle—and plans to compete with the team next fall.
“I have track practice then football practice right after,” he said. “It’s hard. It’s a lot of work.”
Phillips is musical as well, coming from a family of musicians. He plays the piano, organ, drums and electric guitar and is a member of Tabor’s CCM band, which travels to play at various churches and conferences.
“(I’m) just trying to soak up as much as I can before I have to face the real world,” he said. “It’s busy, but it’s definitely worth it. I’ve learned a lot in a lot of different subjects.”
Phillips made his last trip with the band about a month ago, and will now focus his attention on track and football, in addition to his studies. He is majoring in restorative justice with an emphasis in criminal law and a minor in accounting and finance.
Phillips anticipates graduating next spring—the first in his immediate family to graduate from college—and said he would like to pursue his master’s degree in criminal law at Wichita State.
He aspires to be a paralegal, he said, and is considering going to law school.
Phillips credits his success to his faith in God and having teammate Johnny Loera to motivate him to be the best he can be.
“When we came here, it wasn’t about just enjoying track and having fun, it’s about being the best, and being the best the school has ever seen and even going to the next level,” he said.