At 22, Jimmy Phillips is a mixture of man and boy that is becoming. Earlier that afternoon he had been as exhilarated as a 16-year-old when he tooled a high-powered Chris Craft speedboat, throttle open, through the countless coves and inlets dotting the Martin's Lake shoreline. He sat high atop the back rest of the driver's seat enjoying the rush of wind hitting his face, sometimes steering the craft with his feet, ignoring the danger of hitting a submerged log at 45 knots. This was the Jimmy Phillips that made impossible catches on the field, the All-America who was so often gone for a touchdown when he got his hands on the ball. The fisherman was the thoughtful, moral Jimmy Phillips who tried to fit accepted practices of big-time college football into his code and found he couldn't quite do it without feeling guilty.
"The time that fellow from Texas A&M talked to me I really got upset," he said quietly, his voice blending with the droning put-put of the outboard on the fishing boat.
"I was in Tuscaloosa for the Alabama North-South All-Star Game. It's a high school all-star game they have there every year. I was on the South team. I remember we had just finished practice one afternoon a few days before the game, and I was heading for the dressing room when this fellow from A&M asked me if I could talk to him for a few minutes. Scouts from different schools were all over the place, and it wasn't unusual for one of them to approach you.
"I told this fellow I had already made up my mind to go to Auburn. Paul Bryant, who was coaching at A&M then, had written me several letters trying to get me interested in A&M and had even invited me down there. But I never accepted. I had always wanted to play for one of the Southeastern Conference schools.
"Well, this fellow told me that maybe I'd be more interested in playing for A&M after I heard what he had to offer me. I told him to go ahead, I was listening. He said if I would sign with the Aggies, they'd pay me $150 a month while I was in school, guarantee me a $1,500 summer job all through school, move my parents from Alex City to a new house down in College Station and get both of them jobs down there.
"I didn't know exactly what to say to him, so I just thanked him and hurried off to get dressed. One of the Auburn assistant coaches was in the dressing room—there were college coaches all over the place—and I told him what the A&M recruiter had offered me. He got real mad and started cussin'. He said for me not to worry about it, that he'd take care of the fellow from A&M. I don't know what he did, but I never heard from A&M again."
Jimmy's experience with football recruiters has given him some strong ideas about how scholarships should be offered to promising athletes.
"All personal contact between a prospect and the school athletic officials should be discontinued," said Jimmy. "These off-the-cuff, behind-the-scenes offers put a tremendous amount of pressure on a fellow still in high school. You're just not equipped to cope with anything like that when you're 17 or 18. A simple letter would be enough. If a school can't make you its offer on paper, in black and white, then there's something wrong with the offer. A boy can decide pretty well where he wants to go to college, what kind of education he is after. High-pressure salesmen, I found from my own personal experience, only serve to confuse a youngster almost to the point where he loses sight of the basic reason he had for wanting to go to college—to get an education."
A BACK-DOOR CONCEPT
"I don't say big-time football is bad in itself. In fact, if I had it to do all over again, without question I'd go to Auburn and retrace my steps. But the recruiting part of it has gotten out of hand. It should be limited and controlled more closely by the NCAA or some other national body. The way things are set up now, an athlete has hardly any chance to make All-America without first agreeing to some back-door deal. Somehow, this doesn't seem to me to fit in with the concept of All-America. I mean, an All-America football player originally was a national ideal, wasn't he? Subterfuge, somehow, doesn't fit in with that ideal, yet the big football colleges have made it part of the scheme of things."