A Tale of Guts, the Ray Philip Story

Richard Partheymuller II

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Philip in long-snapping position; permission of use granted.

 

The world is full of seemingly “lucky” people who seem to have things handed to them. Though these people seem to give the illusion of what being fortunate really is, Ray Philip is a man who doesn’t expect the world to hand him anything.

It’s not like he was conditioned to think otherwise. Nonetheless, Philip, 20, of Collingswood, New Jersey, has seen and felt the persistent odds that were against him, only to defy their grip with persistence of his own.

This defiance begins the moment when Philip grips the laces of a football. The wide, open, space within Rowan University’s Richard Wacker Stadium in Glassboro, NJ, isn’t just where Philip joins his brothers on Rowan’s football team. This is where Philip suits up to rise up against any doubts he may have. Over the course of the past blank years, football has been a refuge for Philip, even when life tried to separate him from that refuge.

As a long-snapper for Rowan’s team, Philip is often in a position of considerable pressure. Before Philip, the starting position was already filled by Paul Rucci, a Rowan graduate who spent time with the Arizona Cardinals for the NFL team’s rookie league camp. Philip understands fairly well that he “has a lot to live up to.”

Those big shoes to fill don’t discount Philip’s ability as a long-snapper though. According to Philip, he was recruited by Rowan out of Collingswood High School. During his high school football season, Philip took the encouragement and advice given to him by his coach to serve as a long-snapper for the team.

“When I was in high school, my sophomore year, when we had our summer practices, we didn’t even have a long-snapper. It was like open tryouts and one day I was just messing around after practice and my coach said “that was pretty good” and just to keep working on it,” Philip said. “By the start of the season, I was the starting long-snapper and it just kind of carried on from there. When I started getting pretty good in high school, my coach was like “you can go to college for this.”

Philip said he received training as a long-snapper from Coach Jim Cooper of 5 Star Kicking in Cedarbrook, N.J., and cited Coach Cooper as a person who aimed him toward Rowan. Philip said that although he was recruited, Rowan is a Division III program and thus, does not award scholarships for sports. Like many college athletes, Philip plays for the love of the sport that has been in his life for so long. For him, the football field is where another part of him “comes alive.”

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Permission of use granted

 

A love for the sport doesn’t necessarily guarantee any given person a pass from adversity. On the contrary, loving something that much can make being away from it so much more painful. When Philip tore his ACL last year in a summer scrimmage, he would come to learn that lesson the hard way. Philip recalled the incident that which would put him out for nearly a year.

“I was playing linebacker as well and I went to make a tackle and the receiver put on a really nice move and kind of juked me out a little bit. I just planted, my foot got stuck and my knee just popped,” Philip said.

When the athletic director present called for volunteers to escort Philip off the field, Philip said about 10 of his teammates ran to his side. Soon after, Philip would receive an MRI, which revealed that his ACL was completely torn.

“From then on I waited about a week to get my surgery date going. Then, basically two days after I tore my ACL until like two days before I had surgery, I started rehabbing my knee already for like pre-surgery stuff, to strengthen up all my other ligament and muscles and everything so when I got out of surgery, I wasn’t losing too much of those,” Philip said.

When Philip saw the outpouring of support from Instagram and Facebook, he said it was great to see that everyone had his back. That support would be vital from that point on, as Philip pained through the trial of recovery. For about __ months, this would mean Philip would be walking around on crutches.

“It was tough. It was really tough. Going from being an athlete to not having any control of your quad muscle, because when you have ACL surgery, you can’t even flex your quad anymore. Not being able to bend your leg fully and not being able to walk normal for, God, like months. Not being able to run until like four months after, it was tough. I mean, it was worth it though.”

Philip said that he is not the kind of guy to complain, even with those eight months away from playing football. For Philip, tearing his ACL wouldn’t be the first time he would have to deal with the cards he had been dealt. When Philip was going into sixth grade, his mother, Joanne, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Only two weeks after that, Philip lost his father, Ray, to a stroke. Philip’s mother would unfortunately lose her fight with cancer in April of the following year.

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Philip (right) with friends, Will Pope and Mike Taulane; Permission of use granted

 

Though not a childhood that anyone should have to face, Philip knows that he’s “gotta keep truckin’ along.”

“I guess it’s made me stronger, I couldn’t just sit there and like be upset about it, my parents wouldn’t want that for me. They’d probably want for me to move on and work hard, make them proud. So, that’s what my sister and me try to do on a daily basis,” Philip said.

Philip and his sister, Jessica were placed into a position where support was a vital component to coping. One method of coping would come in the form of Camp Oasis, a day camp sponsored by Virtua Foundation, designed for children who have been diagnosed with or were lost to cancer. The camp is only for a single day out of the year in the summer, but Philip looked forward to that one day every year. It was a place where Philip said he could “be a kid again.”

The two eventually matured past coming to Oasis as campers though. The next step for them was to give back.

“We aged out and decided to go back and volunteer. So, we’ve been doing that for a couple of years for volunteering. It’s rewarding, going full-circle from being a camper to helping out kids,” Philip said. “So, to help the kids out and being able to do that for them is just awesome.”

Philip’s initiative to keep moving and his support system both give him some hope. Philip doesn’t want for his past to be seen as something so awful that he couldn’t get through it.

“I mean, it’s not an easy situation from what I’ve been through in my life so far, I’m only 20 years old. I could always be worse, I could always be in a worse of situation but just know that there’s always people out there to support you because I’ve always had a lot of support through the years. So, there’s always someone there to listen,” Philip said.

While at Rowan, Philip also became a volunteer for Rowan’s Relay for Life event. This event is put together every year by Rowan’s Colleges Against Cancer organization.

“I got involved with it last year and I loved every second of it. It’s from 6pm to 6am and that’s a struggle to stay awake and bring great energy but we look at it as staying one night. My mom fought cancer for two years, so I can stay one night,” Philip said.

Philip’s team has played a part in giving back as well. For as long as Philip has been a part of the team, it has been active in Rowan’s chapter of Be the Match, an organization dedicated to matching cancer patients with potential bone marrow donors. Philip and his team help run a registry drive every year within Rowan’s student center.

“The goal of that is trying to get people to come out, and all they have to do is just swab their mouth and it goes into a national registry. From there on, if they get matched, they can choose to be a bone marrow donor and save a life,” Philip said.

Fortunately for Philip, he was cleared to play in May of this past year. Since then, Philip said he “was working out a lot, hitting the field and snapping a lot.” Philip even got some expert training in. Two months prior to being cleared, Philip got a chance to meet and train with Eagles long-snapper, Rick Lovato. Philip said that Lovato gave him a lot of advice to help improve his own snaps. According to Philip, he was all set and ready when the first day of practice came around, and participated in the team’s conditioning test as per normal.

According to Philip, his drive to recover from surgery and get through the rehabilitation process were fueled simply by “just not giving up.”

“I mean, I could’ve given up right there, given up right there on my football dreams. I just could’ve given up and been like a normal person. Even though I put my body through so much just to get back to normal, it was worth it just being able to be back on the field again,” Philip said.

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Philip (#52) with teammates and 5 Star Kicking Head Coach, Jim Cooper; Permission of use granted

 

It’s been several weeks since the team’s season started, with five games played total so far. With the heart of the season underway, Philip is extra diligent and at times extra apprehensive. Yet, Philip knows how to discipline himself.

“[I] could always be better, but the first couple of snaps of the first game I was a little shaky. I was nervous but I settled in. Last game I had all good snaps. Practice-wise, I mean, every now and then I’ll have a bad practice or something, everyone has their bad practices,” Philip said. “As long as I’m good to go for getting time and all of my coaches and my teammates and everything want to have trust in me, and I have trust in myself, I’ll make great snaps.”

On the other hand, Philip is simply determined to be as dependable as a long-snapper should be. The nerves he may feel are only part of the package.

“There’s a lot of pressure being a snapper, the balls in your hand, so if you mess up, the whole play could be messed up. It just teaches you a lot about just yourself, trusting yourself. So, if you go out there and you don’t trust yourself, you’re not confident, you’re going to mess up,” Philip said.

Along with keeping himself together, Philip sees this season as an opportunity to prove himself again. Although he states that he is not at “100 percent yet” and that “it [his ACL] doesn’t feel the same as it did before,” Philip sees the potential in his return season.

“I just want to have a comeback season to where people understand like I’m back, and I’m here to stay, and I’m ready to go, and I’m ready to play and everything. So, I just want to able to have a good enough season to where everybody trusts in me fully again,” Philip said.

Philip just wants to look back on a good season. For now, being back on the field is something Philip is treasuring. Outside of Rowan’s football field, Philip has found a means to give back to the game that has been such a staple in his life. Philip has brought back his experience to 5 Star Kicking, to coach the younger long-snappers. Under the oversight of his former coach, Coach Cooper, Philip has grown fond of the kids he coaches.

“It’s great, I love doing it. I love using what I know to help out the young guys,” Philip said. “I love staying contact with them, you know, and getting to know them and watching them grow, and getting better at their craft as well.”

To Philip, this is only one way that he plans on making a difference. Philip is in his third year at Rowan and is majoring in law and justice, with a minor in sociology. With this combination, Philip plans on helping children one day as a social worker.

“I just want to be the type of person who makes a difference in a kid’s life. I’d love to work in like a school or school district, and at the same time I would like to coach football as well,” Philip said.

For now, Philip is just happy to be back on the field with his team and a chance to make a good season to look back on. One he where he can show that he is finally back and ready to go.

How exactly is he going to do this?

Well, that’s easy to answer…

…by not giving up.

 

For information on Virtua Foundation and Camp Oasis, click here

For information on Relay for Life, click here

For Information on Be the Match, click here

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