Although both will be first-year starters at linebacker for the Trojans in 2012, Phillips started at defensive end last year and Collins got a start in Game 2 of the 2011 season when three-year starter Aaron Brown was sidelined for the Saturday matinee against Vanguard.
As a senior, Phillips brings back the most experience on the defensive side for Trojan coach Rayvan Teague, who expects big things out of the capable play-maker.
“Armani is just a big, fast, good-looking athlete. He’s one of our few returning starters. Of course, he’s moved from defensive end to an inside linebacker. I thought in the spring he was very physical and did a good job there,” Teague said.
Collins is another program player and is the younger brother of former Trojan free safety Austin Collins, who was a starter on the 2010 Class AAA state runner-up squad.
Casey Collins is looking forward to the challenge of stepping into a full-time starting role and serving as a leader of the defense as a junior.
“I feel like me moving up as a junior is a big deal. I don’t think you have to be a senior to be a leader. The coaches are expecting a lot out of us. We’ve been working hard all summer getting prepared,” Collins said.
Among the losses to graduation are Brown and fellow former linebacker Damon Addison. Brown was a three-year starter and defensive captain that signed with Charleston Southern, while Addison is headed to West Georgia on a football scholarship.
Phillips said he learned a lot playing with both guys over the past few years, especially Brown, who was the quarterback of the defense the last two years.
“He taught me that you have to really prepare for a game. Going into the game, you have to have your mind right and your body right. The whole week, you’ve got to have your mind focused on one thing. Then when you get to the game, it’s basically easy,” Phillips said.
Of course, replacing high-level talent is commonplace at Carrollton year-in and year-out, and Teague said it’s a product of the program that the next guy in line is ready to step up when his time comes.
“Aaron’s moved on to college now and he’s doing great. He was forced into duty as a sophomore and did a great job for us for those three years. He made all the calls and was a captain. Now these two guys are going to have to take over that. Casey is the one right now that we’ll probably put the most on mentally, as far as making checks and calls and stuff,” Teague said.
Phillips is confident he and Collins will get the job done this fall and help the Trojans compete for a Region 5-AAAA championship and make a run in the Class AAAA state playoffs.
“I feel like we’re pretty good this year. I believe we try to play smarter and know what we’re doing. Instead of just going out here and flat-out running everywhere, we feel like we know what the players are doing before the snap of the ball and knowing mentally that we’ll make the play,” Phillips said.
The pair of linebackers finally got to do some live hitting on Wednesday when the Trojans were allowed to put on the pads for the first time after completing the five “conditioning” practice days mandated by the GHSA under one of its new policies instituted this year. Both players had been licking their chops for that opportunity.
“It’s fun to me. I like competing with my teammates. You know, see who can get the best hit, who can make the most plays. I believe when we’re competing like that, it makes everybody step up their game more instead of just having one person make all the tackles or one person make all the touchdowns,” Phillips said.
And as the countdown to kickoff continues, the Trojans are staring down a formidable schedule that includes Oxford (Ala.) and reigning Class AA state champion Calhoun in the non-region, along with Sandy Creek joining the fray in 5-AAAA.
“I believe it’ll be more exciting because in the past we’ve played teams where we’ve beat them 30-0, 48-0 and people don’t really care who we play. But when the competition’s starting to come, people can’t say we’re not playing anyone. We’re getting competition. That’s one thing we will have,” Phillips said.
Collins already has a pair of games circled on his 2012 calender.
“After we lost to Sandy Creek in the state championship, that’s a team we want. We’re going to come out on fire and be ready to hit. Then losing to Oxford last year, we’re ready to get some payback on them, too,” Collins said.