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Auburn Kicker Heading to Newport News

906846_10151620990848125_753715138_oBy Ben Hanneman

Not long ago, Volodymir Phillips’ knowledge of American football would not have filled up, well, much of anything really.

And understandably so.

The oldest of three well-chronicled adoptees – along with sister Katia, and Mark – from Dzerzhynsk, Donets’k Oblast in the Ukraine, spent most of his younger years kicking and chasing a round ball and calling it “футбол,” their word for football, our soccer.

This fall, however, a good part of Phillips’ day will be filled with kicking an oblong pigskin-covered ball and hopefully calling it “good.”

Phillips recently signed a letter of intent to kick field goals and extra points at Newport News Apprentice School, a trade school with “a modern curriculum” according to their website, and home to some 200-plus students.

Phillips will study drafting in hopes of someday becoming an engineer. As the school’s name implies, his studies will essentially be his “job.” He’ll be working three days a week, attending classes two days a week and they’ll pay him for five days of work.

“It’s on-the-job-training. They’re investing in their workers,” said Mom Darlene.

On the side – okay, it’s a little more than that – he’ll get to play football. And Dad Allen couldn’t be more proud.

“We’re very proud of Volodymir. This is an opportunity for him to succeed,” Dad said after a signing ceremony at Auburn High School last Friday. “He is a hard worker and I know he’ll do well.”

Walt Fleenor, the coach who spent the most time with Phillips during his one year on the football team, echoed Dad’s sentiments, if, for nothing else Vlodymir’s work ethic.

“He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. I had to actually make him stop kicking. I told him, ‘V, you’re going to wear your leg out. Stop kicking,’” Fleenor said.

And that work ethic helped turn a novice into one of the best kickers Fleenor has ever seen.

“Definitely in the top two or three,” Fleenor said. “For his first year he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Phillips’ biggest improvement, Fleenor said, has been in the fundamentals.

“His form has gone from one to 100 in terms of improvement. He was very good with a very strong leg when he started. He’s refined those skills and his potential is huge. You have to be careful what you tell him because he takes it literally, but his work ethic is so strong.”

Auburn head coach Jack Turner is also confident Phillips will do Auburn proud.

“If he can kick for me he can kick for anybody. They won’t be any tougher on him there than I was here. He just needs to keep his head down and follow through,” Turner said.

Hands down the most memorable moments for both Fleenor and Turner of Phillips’ short tenure on the team was his first kick during a scrimmage against Roanoke Catholic in Roanoke. Phillips’ first field goal try wound up hitting the snapper in the backside, obviously no good.

“He had this look on his face like ‘What in the world am I doing?’ And then after that he just got better and better. He’s having a great year in soccer right now. He’s top-notch. He’s got the perfect demeanor for a kicker. He just rolls with the punches and doesn’t let anything get to him and that’s perfect,” Turner said.

The seeds for Phillips’ next American adventure were sown last October at Turner’s suggestion. A few weeks later, after having been accepted there, Phillips received an e-mail requesting his high school transcripts. One thing led to another and the younger Phillips was one of 200 applicants out of some 7,000 potential candidates chosen for enrollment.

Averitt University also expressed interest in Phillips, but the Apprentice School won out primarily on academic.

“Averitt didn’t have a drafting program,” Phillips said.

And the money didn’t hurt either.

“The dollar signs were real big (at Apprentice) there and his goal is to not be in debt when he finishes school,” Allen said.

The engineering wheels are already turning.