Utes cornerback Clark Phillips looks to improve on a productive freshman year

With a full season ahead of him, the highly recruited California native hopes to make his mark in the secondary.

(University of Utah Athletics) Clark Phillips III, shown here during a recent spring practice at the University of Utah.

Sometime last year, University of Utah freshman cornerback Clark Phillips III and teammate Micah Bernard were looking for something different to do one weekend. So they decided to try their feet at roller skating.

He and Bernard rented the skates at first, but soon bought three or four pairs for themselves. They became what Phillips described as “serious roller skaters,” and in their free time — “of course not during the season,” Phillips said — go out to Classic Fun Center or other places with skating rinks. Phillips also likes to practice in his backyard.

But when Phillips isn’t trying to perfect his salchows, moonwalks or backward crosses, he’s working hard at becoming one of Utah’s premier defensive options in the secondary. Last season, the California native was rated the No. 4 cornerback in the country coming out of La Habra High School, and is considered Utah’s highest-rated recruit ever.

Phillips started all five games of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, recording 25 tackles as a true freshman — nine of which came in the season opener against USC. He had a his breakout game in the season finale against Washington State, where he recovered a fumble and also earned his first pick six.

Phillips told The Salt Lake Tribune that it was the game against Washington State where he felt like everything came together for him. He pointed to the fumble recovery as the moment that happened.

“It was something special,” Phillips said. “I had an extreme amount of adrenaline. After that, the stat machine started. After that moment, I wish we had a Game 6.”

Phillips will definitely have more than five games in the 2021 season to continue proving his worth to coach Kyle Whittingham and the rest of the coaching staff. He highlights a cornerback group that includes returning sophomore JaTravis Broughton and sophomore Malone Mataele.

Whittingham said he expects “more of the same” from Phillips this season after getting five good games under his belt last year.

“We expect him to be one of the stalwart corners for us,” Whittingham said of Phillips. “Between him and [JaTravis] Broughton on the outside, and Malone Mataele on the inside nickel spot, we feel like we’ve got three really good young corners.”

Whittingham added that Phillips has improved on keeping more focus on the opposing receiver, finding the football up the field, and tackling — to name a few.

“He’s really improved his game all round,” Whittingham said.

Off the field, Phillips describes himself as a “super, super religious” person. He is a Christian, he said, and his values are faith, family and football — in that order.

“I try to showcase as much as I can on the football field while being faithful to the man above, the man that gives me all my talents,” Phillips said.

Phillips is also majoring in business management, which he hopes to turn into a career that will take him far beyond his days of playing football.

But in the meantime, Phillips believes that the group that includes him, Broughton, Mataele and other defensive backs such as Faybian Marks and Vonte Davis can be special this year.

“I’m just excited to show what we got,” Phillips said. “The more we continue to gel together, the better we’ll be as a secondary.”