June 06, 2016 - 8:30 AM
KAMLOOPS - An off-season vacation earlier in Ryan Phillips' career might have taken him to a party destination like Las Vegas.
Now a family man at 33, the veteran defensive back for the B.C. Lions embarked on a much different kind of trip with his wife and two young sons this past winter.
"To go to Disneyland Paris was something," said Phillips, grinning ear to ear while recounting his European adventure that also included stops at the Louvre museum and the Eiffel Tower.
"I enjoy being a father. That's what I do first and foremost. I want to be the best role model possible for them," he added. "Instilling those family values is always going to be the No. 1 priority for me."
The top priority on the field for the father figure in the Lions' secondary is getting his team back to the top of the CFL after four straight frustration-filled seasons.
B.C. hoisted the Grey Cup in 2011 — the second title for Phillips after also winning it in 2006 — but the club hasn't tasted victory in a playoff game since, including a dismal 7-11 campaign last season.
At his 12th training camp with the Lions, he understands the clock is ticking on his mortality as an athlete and is hungry for one more shot at glory.
"If anything's going to end, you want to end on a good note," he said. "I'm happy my career's still going in the right direction and I'm still playing at a high level."
At five foot 10 and 195 pounds, Phillips has had remarkable durability. He's missed just four regular-season games, all in 2015, while snagging 46 interceptions, just five short of the franchise mark.
Lions head coach and general manager Wally Buono, back on the sidelines for the first time since 2011, brought Phillips into the league and still remembers seeing him at a free-agent camp in Oregon a dozen years ago.
"His skills have never really diminished. I think Ryan still has fun. Football has to be fun," said Buono. "He's been a great pro and also a great ambassador for the club."
B.C. defensive co-ordinator Mark Washington played with Phillips at the tail end of his own career and said it doesn't surprise him to see the Seattle native still competing at a high level.
"He's a pro and he knows how to take care of himself," said Washington. "He wants to prove himself every single time and he takes nothing for granted."
Solomon Elimimian, the CFL's most outstanding player in 2014, credits Phillips with helping him when he was a no-name rookie linebacker trying to find his way.
"He impresses me with his knowledge," said Elimimian. "When I was a young guy coming into this league, not understanding the nuances of the game, he was like the additional coach. There were times when I would mess up and he would always have my back.
"Without Ryan I don't know if I would have lasted my second year."
The defensive backfield should be a strength for the Lions in 2016 after adding Brandon Stewart and Mike Edem in free agency, while Steven Clarke is back from an unsuccessful NFL tryout to compliment Phillips, T.J. Lee and Ronnie Yell.
"We're going to be pretty polished," said Phillips, who finished in a three-way tie for first in the CFL last season with six interceptions. "We've got guys in position to be successful and we're expecting big plays."
The Eastern Washington University product said taking care of his body and studying hard off the field have been among the keys to his success.
"You have to learn and make your game progress every single year," said Phillips. "Your football IQ has to evolve."
But with that in mind, he added consistency has also played an important role in a career that doesn't show any signs of slowing down.
"That's big and something I try to preach to the young guys," he said. "You want to come in and set a standard and meet or exceed that standard every single year."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016