Like so many young athletes do, former Tennessee defensive lineman and Nashville native Kyle Phillips had a dream of playing in the NFL as a kid.
On Thursday, Phillips, along with eleven other Vols, took one step closer to making those dreams a reality, performing for NFL scouts in the team’s annual Pro Day workout at the Anderson Athletic Training Center.
“Growing up, most of us always dreamed of playing in the NFL,” Phillips said. “I’ve seen other guys go through this process, and the fact that it is me shows that it happens pretty fast and that time really does fly by.”
The Pro Day event offered at least one more chance for many Tennessee players to showcase their talents ahead of the NFL Draft in April.
Events included agility testing, such as the 40-yard dash, broad jump and the 3-yard cone drill, as well as drills for individual positions.
In addition to Phillips, other players included quarterback Keller Chryst and linebacker Jonathan Kongbo.
Phillips looking to get ‘stronger’ ahead of NFL Draft
Kyle Phillips came to Tennessee by way of Hillsboro High School in Nashville in Butch Jones’ 2015 recruiting class.
Phillips started all twelve games on the defensive line his senior campaign, finishing third on the team with 56 tackles and second in sacks with five.
The impressive finish was enough for Phillips to rack up a few accolades, such as being named to the Wuerffel Trophy Watch List, semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy and SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week back on Oct. 15 after a career-high nine tackles against Auburn.
Phillips was also invited to the East-West Shrine Game, and hopes that his performance in that game along with his showing at Pro Day is enough to get more attention from the NFL.
“It’s a great opportunity to get more exposure,” Phillips said. “I want to get as many eyes on me as possible, because at this point it’s all about getting exposure to the teams that don’t know about me.”
While Phillips was invited to the regional combine hosted by the Kansas City Chiefs, not getting an invite to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis is just another source of motivation for him.
“The guys that went (to the NFL Combine) definitely deserved it,” Phillips said. “But every time you don’t get picked, it’s a good thing I got invited to the regional because I still got a chance to be in front of all 32 teams and got a chance to show off my skill set.”
With that regional combine and the Pro Day now behind him, Phillips used both opportunities to build his strength to show teams that he can plug into any position they need him.
“Just getting stronger,” Phillips said about what he wanted to improve the most. “277 is what I weighed in today. During the season I was 265, so I’m definitely getting bigger.
“Teams have been liking me to play outside backer and some teams have been liking me to a play a true five technique. I’m pretty much in the ‘middle weight’ that teams who have been looking at me want, so I’m happy about that.”
Chryst willing to make position change at next level
When Keller Chryst arrived to Knoxville as a grad transfer from Stanford, he envisioned his last season as a college quarterback going a bit differently than it turned out.
While Chryst played in 23 games and started in six of them for the Cardinal between 2015 and 2017, he spent his brief Tennessee career as a backup behind sophomore Jarrett Guarantano.
Chryst played in eight games for the Vols, finishing with 450 passing yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 130.7.
Despite his short time with Tennessee, Chryst saw the experience as valuable and thinks it made him a better quarterback.
“I think so because of the trial and tribulations you go through,” Chryst said. “Obviously this past year it didn’t work out as I had hoped or as I had dreamed, but at the end of the day I was happy with the positive things I did take away from playing at Tennessee.”
Showing off his arm wasn’t the only thing scouts asked Chryst to do for them on Thursday. During position drills, Chryst was asked to run a few routes as a tight end, showing his willingness to switch positions just to get his shot at the NFL.
“They pulled me over to the side and asked me if I could (run routes),” Chryst said. “For me, it’s anyway I can play. Maybe I can I be someone like a Taysom Hill or anyone that has translated from another position like quarterback and has had success.”
Kongbo back from injury, glad to be playing football again
There was no shortage of hype when then-five star recruit Jonathan Kongbo announced his commitment to Tennessee as a JUCO transfer out of Arizona Western in 2015.
Four years and a college career spent finding the right fit later, Kongbo took to the field at the Robert E. White Indoor Practice Facility on Thursday looking to make his case to anyone, not just the NFL.
During the third quarter in a win over Auburn, Kongbo suffered an ACL tear that sidelined him for the remainder of his senior season.
Originally a defensive end, Kongbo played defensive tackle under Butch Jones due to injuries on the defensive line for three seasons before Jeremy Pruitt moved him over to outside linebacker as part of his 3-4 defensive scheme.
Things were going better as linebacker until the injury against Auburn put his future football endeavors into question. That’s why Kongbo was happy just to be participating in Pro Day.
“I feel great,” Kongbo said. “I’m just happy to be back out here with my teammates. It’s been a couple of months since I’ve been at UT, so it’s been a good feeling, for sure.”
While Kongbo was able to participate in the bench press, he was limited in agility and position drills due to his recovery.
“It was killing me,” Kongbo said. “My body tells me, ‘I think I can,’ but my trainer told me to slow down a little bit. It kills me not to be out there with my teammates, but all I could really do was support them.”
Although the NFL is the goal for many players, any professional league will due for Kongbo, including the chance to play in his native Canada in the Canadian Football League.
“I’ve talked to a few teams,” Kongbo said. “The Giants, the Jets, Cleveland and a couple of CFL teams. It would definitely be nice as a Canadian (to play in the CFL). I would be perfect for the league. I just want an opportunity. That’s all I’m looking for.”