A Wasted Life

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A Wasted Life

Lawrence Phillips, born in 1975, is a former professional football player. He went to West Covina High School his first two years of high school, then the next two years attended Baldwin Park High School, both in California. For at least part of his high school career he played both offense and defense.

He was living in a foster home in southern California when he was recruited by the University of Nebraska. His freshman year he played sparingly, but by the end of the year, when Nebraska played Florida State in the Orange Bowl, he had established himself as the starter at running back. Phillips was an amazing runner, with size and speed and agility. He rushed for more than 100 yards in 11 consecutive games in 1994. He rushed for 1722 yards, still a Nebraska record for a sophomore. Nebraska went undefeated and won a national championship that year.


The following year, his life began to unravel. He was an early front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, but after returning from the second game of the season he was arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend. Head coach Tom Osborne suspended him from the team and reinstated him later in the season. He was named the starter for the Orange Bowl, and gained 165 yards in the game that handed Nebraska another national title. He decided to turn pro a year early.

He was drafted sixth by the St. Louis Rams. He managed ten games before he was in trouble again. He refused to show up for a team meeting and a practice because of a dispute with the head coach over playing time. The team cut him from the roster. No matter what kind of contract an athlete has (except a personal services contract, and nobody except Steve Young and Brian Bosworth ever got one of those), if he does not show up he can be terminated. The Rams cut him even though the head coach said he was the best running back he had ever coached.

He played for the Miami Dolphins for two games before they cut him. During this time, he was arrested for assaulting a woman in a nightclub.

He spent a year playing for Barcelona in NFL Europe and returned to the U.S. in 1999. He played for the San Francisco 49ers but did not finish the season. At one point, he missed a block on a cornerback and the cornerback smashed Steve Young, the quarterback. Young suffered a concussion that effectively ended his career.

In 2001, Phillips signed with the Florida Bobcats of the Arena Football League but was released after leaving without telling his coach.

He then played in the Canadian Football League for a year, and was cut in the next training camp for insubordination. He signed with another Canadian team but was again cut for arguing with the head coach.

 He did try to talk his way into the NFL one more time, but the head coach told him that, while he believed everybody deserved another chance, Phillips had used up all of his chances. He was arrested for assault in 2005. At the time of this arrest he was wanted by San Diego in connection with two domestic violence incidents. The Los Angeles Police also wanted Phillips for yet another domestic violence allegation.

Phillips was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2008. While serving that sentence he was convicted in another trial. In December, 2009 Phillips was sentenced to 31 years in prison. He is currently serving time in the California prison system. He had to use a public defender because he had spent all the money he earned playing football.

This is a guy who was definitely one of the best running backs ever. He was fast and strong and elusive. He had the world by the tail. But he was unwilling or unable to abandon the “tough guy” ways of the streets he grew up in.


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