Dolphins’ Jaelan Phillips back in L.A., where he once retired while at UCLA – The Denver Post


Four years ago, almost to the day, it would’ve been virtually impossible to predict Jaelan Phillips would have the NFL career he has built — or that he would even have an NFL career.

That’s because on Dec. 15, 2018, Phillips, then at UCLA, decided to retire from the sport due to multiple injuries sustained over two years of college football while playing for the Bruins.

Deciding to get back into the game early in 2019, his journey brought him to Miami — first with the Hurricanes and then, after a standout 2020 season, as a 2021 first-round pick of the Dolphins. Deep into Phillips’ second professional season, the promising edge defender has 13 1/2 career sacks, 8 1/2 of them last year when he set the franchise rookie record for sacks.

His coast-to-coast trek to get him into this position now leads him back to where it all started. The Dolphins play the Chargers in Los Angeles on Sunday night. As the team just came off a road game against the San Francisco 49ers, it decided to stay in California for the week in between, practicing at the UCLA facilities, where Phillips once called it quits.

Phillips is on the NFL path he once envisioned as a five-star recruit for the Bruins. It just took a brief detour.

“Coming into UCLA, being the No. 1-ranked player in the nation, I kind of figured I’d be a No. 1 overall draft pick kind of thing,” Phillips said Wednesday evening after Miami’s practice. “About half a season later, I was like, ‘I might not ever play football again.’ So, definitely a whirlwind of emotions.

“Ultimately, I think God has a plan for everybody. I think his plan for me was to be able to set an example for people, and I think that I’m exactly where I need to be now.”

Phillips has no regrets for how it all transpired at UCLA.

“I don’t got time for self-reflection. I try to stay present,” he said before facing quarterback Justin Herbert and the Chargers’ high-flying offense.” I have no regrets about how everything went down. I think it was all God’s plan. It was all perfect timing. So yeah, it’s a crazy journey for sure, but it feels great.”

That journey involved an ankle injury, a wrist injury in an off-the-field accident and multiple concussions. He medically retired and momentarily lost his love for football.

It was telling that Phillips’ fondest memory at UCLA was his first game.

“We had the second-biggest comeback in NCAA history — 35-point comeback against Texas A&M,” he recalled. “I had a sack and a half my first game as a Bruin. It all went downhill from there.”

Phillips then lost muscle mass when he stepped away from football. He decided he’d return to the game as a transfer at the University of Miami, first having to sit out the 2019 season due to NCAA transfer rules at the time.

That time worked to his benefit. He transformed his body to make himself the physical specimen that had eight sacks in 10 games at UM, enticing the Dolphins to select him with the No. 18 pick in 2021.

As part of a stout pass-rushing trio with Bradley Chubb and Melvin Ingram, Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel sees Phillips blossoming.

“He’s just coming into his own, really, as a football player,” McDaniel said. “He will continue and strive to get better each and every day, week, game and year. And he knows that he has room to grow, too. So I think the sky’s the limit for that guy.”

Phillips, a Redlands, California native, said he has 91 friends and family members attending Sunday’s game at SoFi Stadium.



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