MISSOULA — Reese Phillips came to Montana looking for a second chance.
Now, Phillips is hoping he'll get a third.
Phillips announced via Twitter that he's trying for a sixth year of eligibility, since he's recovering from his leg/foot injury faster than expected.
With my injury coming along quicker than expected, I’ve decided to try for a 6th year. I love the game to much to not atleast try...— Reese Phillips (@ReesePhillips11) January 4, 2018
Phillips sustained a morbid injury — shattered fibula, a slew of ruptured foot ligaments, dislocated foot — against Savannah State in Montana's third game of the season.
"You start missing the game," Phillips told 406mtsports.com. "I struggled for a long time accepting that that was the way it was gonna end. I can't let that happen. I might as well try."
Phillips said he didn't think about playing again at first, but then he began walking and putting weight on his foot a week and a half ahead of schedule.
The progress jump started the process of trying for a sixth year.
"You start walking and you get a little more confident," Phillips said. "It feels really good right now. I think I could be running by summer for sure. It's just a combination of things: starting to feel better, feel confident."
He added: "I'm confident that if I could make it through a season healthy, I would have the opportunity to play for more years for sure. I think if I would have made it through this year healthy, I'd be going on and would continue to play somewhere. Maybe not the NFL, but there's other options. That's my mindset."
Conversations with coaches like Troy's Neal Brown (former Kentucky offensive coordinator) and teammates like Keenan Curran have also helped rebuild Phillips' confidence in potentially playing again.
But if Phillips is granted a sixth season by the NCAA, he won't be playing for Montana.
"I understand the situation there. It's hard," Phillips said. "They've got a really good young quarterback and I have to be in a situation where I'm going to be the guy since I have one year left. They've been great though. They've been helping me. They're going to let me come and rehab there and train. They told me if I can run by the summer, they think someone will pick me up. I'm very confident that I'll be able to run by then.
"I'm seeing where (former Montana coach Bob) Stitt lands too. I'm kinda waiting on that. I've talked with him. If he lands somewhere that's the right spot, that's probably what I'll take but I'm leaving every option open right now."
The rules surrounding sixth years are murky.
Typically, to be granted a sixth year of eligibility, a player must miss "more than one season" due to "circumstances beyond control" of the student athlete and the school.
Traditional redshirts don't count toward the more-than-one-year criteria and Phillips took his traditional redshirt in 2013 at Kentucky.
"More-than-one-season" isn't exactly concrete.
Phillips has technically missed more than one season due to various injuries, but not two full seasons.
Phillips' leg/foot injury wasn't his first medical setback. He tore his Achilles tendon during spring practices in 2015.
Phillips didn't participate in Kentucky's first four games, but saw action later that season as a holder.
According to Kentucky's participation records from 2015, Phillips — with his name spelled incorrectly — played in seven games that season without accumulating any stats. Those seven games were the fifth through 11th games of the year.
Phillips can make a case regarding the 2017 injury under the Hardship Waiver clause — often referred to as a medical redshirt.
The Hardship Waiver clause in the NCAA's Five-Year Rule legislation, may "(grant) an additional year of competition by the conference or the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement for reasons of 'hardship.'"
For team sports, there are three conditions that must be met. Objectively, Phillips meets those.
1. The injury must occur in one of the four seasons of competition.
- Phillips was injured during a game in his fourth season of play.
2. The injury occurs prior to the first competition of the second half of the playing season and results to being out for the rest of the year.
- Phillips' injury happened in the third game of the season. The NCAA considers the second half of an 11-game season to begin with the sixth game. He didn't play again.
3. The injury must occur before the student athlete has not participated in more than three contests or 30 percent of scheduled contests.
- Phillips played in three games, which was 27.27 percent of Montana's scheduled contests.
Until Phillips decides where he wants to go, he'll be rehabbing and making his case.
"We're gonna ... use as much as I can to make them give me another year," he said. "We're hoping. More than likely it won't be in the Big Sky, so if I'm going to a different league, (hopefully) they'll show a little compassion."