For years the BC Lions secondary was the picture of continuity. Dante Marsh, Korey Banks and Ryan Phillips could read each other like a book and the Lions reaped the rewards of their cohesiveness. They quickly became fixtures on the team and won two Grey Cups as a group anointing themselves ‘Lockdown U’.
Two seasons ago they talked about finishing their careers together as BC Lions. The “Grey Beards” as they referred to themselves, all felt they were still at the top of their game. They aged like fine wine, they said.
But their dream of retiring together proved to be just that. In 2014 Wally Buono decided that Banks’ best days were behind him, and at the conclusion of that year, he decided that it was time Marsh was replaced as well. As in all pro sports, the choice is rarely the that of the athlete.
Wally Buono has never been afraid of change and very rarely is he wrong. After being traded to Winnipeg, Banks scoffed at his role with the Bombers and retired. Dante Marsh has yet to find work with a club since his release, but has told me he’s fine with working on his clothing line and personal training business if the right offer doesn’t come along.
Phillips might have been next, if not for the fact of his durability and leadership value to the team, and as such it was announced he would receive an extension through 2016, even though the same thing had been an announced prior to the 2014 season.
He starts his 11th season in the CFL, all of them with the BC Lions. He has never missed a game in his career (all 180 of them) which is the longest active streak in the CFL. Phillips will be counted on to be a veteran presence in a secondary that has been overhauled the last two season with promising results. The additions of Cord Parks, TJ Lee, Ronnie Yell and Josh Johnson have been solid. The Lions hope to have free agent signing Chris Rwabukamba address their need for a national safety, and also have the snake bitten Matt McGarva returning from injury as insurance.
Phillips will be counted on to be the man that guides the unit. His 40 interceptions are second only to Lions legend Larry Crawford who tallied 51 over his career. It would likely be tough for Phillips to reach that mark over the next two seasons, and really there is no guarantee he will be here past this campaign. But for now, the Lions simply find his intangibles too valuable to let go.
Playing in BC is perfect for Phillips, who resides in Washington State and is a school teacher in the off-season. In 2006 he completed his degree in Secondary Education and enjoys working as a substitute teacher in the Seattle school system. Something that is not a surprise if you’ve ever seen him around young fans.
His work in the community is well documented as well, as evidenced by a charity basketball game he held last spring benefiting the BC/Yukon division of Make-A-Wish.
So while two of his fellow mainstays are gone, Phillips churns on. He may not be the player he was five years ago. Not many out there would consider him the best tackler on the team either. But to Wally Buono his other qualities have made him; the last man standing.