Hawaii football: James Phillips introduces himself to Aloha Stadium

James Phillips caught a pass at practice on July 27. / Photo by Andrew Lee, Special to the Star-Advertiser

James Phillips made quite the first impression at Aloha Stadium.

It was just a practice, sure, but there will only be a handful of those at the Rainbow Warriors’ home venue, at most, before the start of the 2019 season against Arizona on Aug. 24. UH went there Saturday morning because of the possibility of inclement weather on its grass practice field on campus.

Phillips, a sophomore receiver who’s operated mostly at second-team depth, had two long touchdown catch-and-runs in UH’s controlled scrimmage. They came from Justin Uahinui and Chevan Cordeiro. Our Stephen Tsai tabulated the yardage of the scores at 53 and 34.


“Well, I’ve only actually been in here once (before), and that was on my visit. It was my first experience being in here,” Phillips said as he prepared to walk up the Aloha Stadium loading tunnel onto a team bus. “It’s so big, you know, you see it on TV. When you get here, it’s way bigger than it actually looks. Actually playing on it, it was a different feeling today.”

And what was the feeling?

“I loved it. Everything just felt different. Running through the offense, seeing the ball in the air. Just the stadium being so big, it just felt like the ball was so much higher. It just felt like it’s something I’ve gotta get used to and I’m excited for it.”

With Aloha Stadium reaching the end of its lifespan likely in a few more seasons, you might count the 5-foot-9 sophomore Phillips among one of the last crops of incoming players who will play their entire UH career in the place.

(If you’re curious, some of the latest projections have the new stadium construction beginning in 2022 with a targeted finish date of 2024. Of course, with the usual timeliness of state construction projects, who knows?)

In any case, Phillips made the most of his Halawa debut as only a smattering of team family and friends watched from the stadium stands during the closed session. The longer of the two TDs Saturday was from Uahinui on the left side.

“It’s a snag route, a snag concept, so I had a corner route,” Phillips recalled. “The safety was on the inside, hashing me. So basically what I’m doing is just running just a straight stem, and then break it out. Safety didn’t get there, and Justin finished the throw. Great ball.”

The 5-foot-9 sophomore said he’s reached a level of comfort with the various UH quarterbacks.

“We (all) have a pretty good connection. That’s the goal,” Phillips said. “Get every receiver good with the quarterbacks. You never know what’s going to happen during game day. So we all just want to be on the same level.”

Head coach Nick Rolovich spoke approvingly of Phillips’ progress this fall. Phillips was an honor-roll student at Heritage (Calif.) High.

“He’s been very consistent as far as learning the offense since he got here. You know, he’s a smart player,” Rolovich said. “Today he was put in the position to make some plays. Great throws and great catches by him. He knows how to get open. He understands the entire schematics of what we’re trying to do, which helps.”

Phillips, of Los Angeles, decided on UH coming out of a single season at Mt. San Jacinto College, where he earned first-team all-conference honors. He topped 100 yards receiving in two of nine games.

The island scenery and Rolovich himself were big reasons why he decided on UH, he said. But what sealed the deal was UH’s successful implementation of the run-and-shoot offense last year coming off several years of pro-style offense.

“That was really the final decision, just how the offense works,” Phillips said. “I saw myself in the offense even before I got here. I felt like it was a great fit.”

Rolovich said the return of the run and shoot has helped in the recruitment of several other offensive players, including receivers Melquise Stovall, Mekel Ealy and Jonah Panoke, and Cordeiro at quarterback.

In the case of Phillips, it lured him to Hawaii without any prior firsthand knowledge of the islands.

“I just took a leap of faith, and as you can see, I love it.”

James Phillips pointed during a recent UH football practice. / Photo by Andrew Lee, Special to the Star-Advertiser


  1. iGrokSpock August 4, 2019 12:02 pm

    Hey Brian,

    You said that the two touchdown throws to Phillips were from Justin Uahinui and Chevan Cordeiro but Mr. Tsai said they were both from Chevan. Which is correct?

  2. H-Man August 4, 2019 12:38 pm

    Good article. Rolo not exactly heaping the praise, “He’s been very consistent as far as learning the offense since he got here.” What an understatement ! Phillips has moved ahead of the pack IMO.

  3. Brian McInnis August 4, 2019 1:11 pm

    He definitely caught one from Uahinui. I asked him about that play specifically and he talked about the pass (in quote above), naming Justin.

  4. J-Man August 4, 2019 11:19 pm

    Uahinui, another underrated player. Third string, yes, but he might just as well be invisible.

  5. iGrokSpock August 5, 2019 8:07 am

    3. Thanks Brian. Good to hear that Justin’s got an arm too.

  6. A-House August 5, 2019 1:34 pm

    more competition at the WR or slot position — both right WR and slot are seniors for 2019

    replacements ready to ” reload”!!!

    let’s wait and see how the WR/slot coach uses his ‘talented group!!! — rotation to keep all fresh!!!

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