Not every athlete recruited to post-secondary sports turns out to be a success. The risks are perhaps even more prevalent when it is a southern Ontario prospect that is lured to the Great White North, far away from the comfort of the GTA and beyond.
Yet as Cambrian men�s soccer netminder Evan Phillips closes the books on an unforgettable three year ride with the Golden Shield, it would be safe to say that the highly touted recruit travelled well beyond reasonable expectations, both on a personal level, as well as in terms of team success.
Born and raised in Toronto - or Etobicoke, to be more specific - the middle of three children in the family, all boys, became aware very early on that sport would always form a key element in his life. �Our family had like a quota of time that we had to be outside, playing something, during the day,� said Phillips with a smile.
�I was good at hockey, and I loved it, but I was always better at soccer.� Those of us who have watched Phillips anchor the back-end of a three year run at Cambrian that broke completely new ground for the program would have a hard time imagining the 6�4� ball-stopper as anything but a keeper.
The size with which he is now blessed, however, was a late addition to his netminding profile. �I was a lot different back then,� said Phillips. �I wasn�t tall and lanky. I grew immensely from when I was 16 or 17. I grew from like 5�2� up to 5�10�.�
�But I�ve always been really aggressive. I don�t really think about anything, I just go for the ball � always have. When I was smaller, I had to be more aggressive and cut down angles more. Now I can sit back and read the game.�
�I always had to be thinking ahead, and I think that as I got older and taller, it helped me understand the game better and appreciate it more,� said Phillips. A mainstay with both the Bryst Academy and Islington Soccer Club in his youth, the 22 year old would actually spend two seasons with the Laurier Hawks, before making the move north.
�My goal, after graduating from high school, was to be a paramedic,� he explained. �I was at Laurier for soccer only in my second year.� Thankfully, there was the issue of a pre-existing connection with Sudbury, one that merged nicely with his career interests.
�Both of my parents went to Laurentian. And I had been to Sudbury for hockey and soccer tournaments.� Still, as much as academics entered the mix, a move this far away almost necessitated an involvement on the pitch.
�I did some research on Cambrian soccer,� recalled Phillips. �I had no idea who (coach) Giuseppe (Politi) was before, but my coach at Laurier did. He gave him a glowing recommendation.�
And unlike some who switch from the OUA to the OCAA, Phillips had no reason to look down upon his new home. �At Laurier, we played exhibition games against OCAA teams, so I already had an idea of the competition.�
�I knew of Humber, Algonquin. I knew the OCAA was good soccer � I never doubted that. Honestly, when I came here, I wasn�t focused on what the level was at. I came into camp in really good shape, and wanted to play every minute of every game. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to earn the spot on the team, and not just be given it.�
That drive would define Phillips throughout his three year stay. It was a stretch of time that provided a wonderfully exciting journey, both for the young man who captured Cambrian Male Athlete of the Year honours last spring, but also for the entire crew that joined him on this path to success.
�My first year, the big difference was that no one was expecting much,� he stated. �We would go in and compete in every game, and if we got a result, we got a result. Even in my second year, nobody was expecting a ton from us. We were a little bit better, but still no great expectations.�
�This year, we were deeper. Our roster, from one to eighteen, was simply better. There were expectations, and not just from outside the group, but also inside our group. Everyone thought that we could get to the Final Four again.�
Alas, it was not to be. And while the playoff setback at the hands of the Niagara Knights was a bitter pill to swallow, the talkative goaltender is not about to let the loss redefine his time at Cambrian. �All three years have been amazing � I�ve loved every minute of it,� he said.
In fact, Phillips believes firmly that those who possess the athletic skill and academic initiative to combine both in a varsity setting, and choose not to do so, will miss out on a life-changing experience.
�You have this opportunity to be part of something that is very different than high school and club,� he noted. �Our team, from the second last week of August, until when the season is done, is about spending every day with these guys. You become super close with them.�
�You play soccer, every day, playing this sport that you have a huge passion for. You don�t get to do that, in the same way, when you�re a kid. You�re having fun here, and playing it at a super high level.�
Yes, not every recruit pans out. Evan Phillips � well, he�s a keeper.