Former skier Andy Phillips brings 'unique profile' to Chicago Bears' kicking competition

Bears rookie PK Phillips, 28, was productive at Utah even though he got a late start at football

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Utah's Andy Phillips makes a 41-yard field goal against Indiana during the second half of the Foster Farms Bowl NCAA college football game Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. Utah won 26-24. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Utah's Andy Phillips makes a 41-yard field goal against Indiana during the second half of the Foster Farms Bowl NCAA college football game Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. Utah won 26-24. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) — Marcio Jose Sanchez

It’s not often a special teams coordinator invokes skiing when analyzing a kicker. It’s also unusual to have a 28-year-old rookie who never played football in high school.

Meet Andy Phillips, the Bears’ undrafted rookie kicker out of Utah who was once an Olympic hopeful for downhill skiing and spent his four years of college as the old guy.

“It was fun. A lot of fun. It put me in a unique position as a kicker to be a leader of the team, which I don’t think you see very often around the US,” Phillips said last week during rookie minicamp. “It was fun just having guys come to me about other things other than sport. I’ve been married six years, I have two kids and I have a Master’s in business and information systems, so guys would ask me financial questions or girl questions or kid questions, stuff like that. It was fun to be able to give advice where I could.”

Phillips joked that he kept his beard during rookie minicamp to look his age. If only the rest of the players at Halas Hall last weekend knew about Phillips’ background, they could have left with more knowledge on married life, skiing, business or fatherhood.

When the Bears begin OTAs next week, only 15 of the 90 players will be older than Phillips, but he’ll be the one leaning on veterans to learn about life in the NFL, starting with the player he’ll be competing against to win a job, Connor Barth.

Jeff Rodgers noted that Phillips had over an 80 percent conversion rate on field goals in his four years kicking for the Utes and has a “unique profile” as a former skier.

“There’s a lot of guys that we looked at and the guys that were available, we felt that he was at the time the best guy that we could sign,” he said.

Back to that “unique profile.” Phillips served a two-year LDS mission in Norway during the Vancouver Olympics and had dreams of going to Sochi. He skied his first race at the age of 5 and “just kinda fell in love with it.”

Competing in Sochi “didn’t make a ton of sense” financially, Phillips explained.

“After the recession, the money in ski racing wasn’t there anymore. I prioritized education and family,” he said. “So that was kinda what I was after with Utah — somewhere where I could still be competitive and physically active doing something I love, but also get a good education.”

It took perseverance and, well, pestering, before he could get on the Utes’ football team. Phillips tried kicking field goals at the suggestion of a friend one Thanksgiving and then “bugged the crap” out of Utah’s special teams coordinator, sending him tapes of kicks from a local high school.

“I think I turned some heads just with my competitive nature and, obviously, from ski racing, I had a lot of discipline in the weight room,” he said. “I was really just disciplined with everything I did. Through that first year I redshirted and learned the game. They brought in a couple guys and we battled and I ended up winning the job.”

Phillips wasn’t a football fan growing up — “it was soccer and ski racing, and that was kind of it” — but now he is an NFL kicker, and he plans to use his experience on the slopes to help him in his new job.

“Of course it’s a team sport, but kicker is super-individual. Ski racing, it’s all mental,” he said. “There’s a lot more physicality to ski racing than there is to kicking. It’s all mental. If you can control your mind, you can kick for a really long time.”