It's a sunny mid-July morning at the University of Miami, with the breeze whirling the fresh ocean scent, inviting everyone to enjoy a lazy South Florida day. With most NFL camps resuming in less than a week, many players spend their last days of freedom maxing and relaxing in the sand before going back to work. Washington Redskins cornerback Phillip Buchanon is not your typical laissez-faire beach bum.
Inside The U's power factory, music and the stench of sweat circulate as Buchanon and other 'Cane alums grind out another intense workout, continuing one of the coolest, most exclusive training traditions in professional sports. Each NFL off-season, former Hurricane heroes reconvene on campus to prep for another rigorous season by pushing each other with competitive camaraderie.
If you didn't suit up for the 'Canes in college, don't bother trying to gain access to this elite football fraternity. Phillip punched his member's-only card in 2001, garnering All-American honors while leading Miami to the BCS National Championship.
STACK caught up with the sticky-fingered owner of 17 NFL career interceptions—including five pick sixes—to discuss how he juggled being a four-sport athlete in high school, why he turned down an MLB contract to be part of The U's swag, and what goes through his head before matching up against top NFL wideouts.
STACK: What are some benefits of returning to your college stomping grounds to train in the off-season?
Phillip Buchanon: For me, to come back and work with some of the guys coming out of high school [current Hurricane players], it kind of gives me something to look forward to and work toward. It definitely gives me a feeling of, "Okay, if the young guys are here, then I need to be here." It's kind of like doing your homework. And at the same time, I've always been a competitive person.
STACK: How did this tradition start with former Hurricane players?
PB: Ever since the first day I stepped in here [for college], I've seen guys like Duane Starks and Ray Lewis come back. Normally, guys that go to the NFL come back and work out here, so for me, it wasn't a hard choice. And plus, I like being around here anyway. We have a lot of nice weather and nice females around [laughs].
STACK: Do you have any fond high school sports memories?
PB: The high school experience was fun for me because I played four sports: football, basketball, baseball, and track. I don't like to give myself nicknames, but I did a lot, so they called me "Mr. Everything" [laughs].
STACK: Since baseball and track are both spring sports, how did you balance those responsibilities?
PB: First and foremost, it was baseball. Whenever I didn't have a baseball game, I was allowed to run track, and the track team wanted me to run because I was the fastest guy in my school [laughs]. I loved the track meets, and to this day, I love going back and watching high school football, track and basketball.
STACK: You were drafted by the Cincinnati Reds out of high school, correct?
PB: No…I was hurt, so I guess some of the baseball people heard a rumor about me not wanting to play baseball, [which is why] I wasn't drafted. But the Reds offered me half-a-million [to play], and eventually I turned it down. But, if I [could] turn back the hands of time, I probably wouldn't have done that—[even though] I'm glad [about] my situation, and the NFL is working out for me very well.
STACK: As an 18-year-old, how difficult was it to turn down that kind of money and pursue football?
PB: Before I got [the Reds] offer, I worked out for a couple of teams [Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins] individually. As I was going through the workouts, it was an all-day thing, and I was like, "Man, I did not know that they had this much baseball stuff!" At the same time, I was young, and I didn't really understand the whole purpose. I didn't really know the whole business side [of professional sports]. I didn't really have [a person guiding me].
STACK: How was your football recruiting experience in high school?
PB: I got so much mail [starting] my sophomore year, and my first letter came from [University of] Florida. My cousin is Jevon Kearse, and he was playing for Florida at the time. So I told myself, "I'm thinking about going to Florida. I'll be a wide receiver…like Jacquez Green, Reidel Anthony and Ike Hilliard—the star [wide receivers] of Florida."
STACK: Did Jevon give you any recruiting advice?
PB: When he first went to Florida, he was skinnier than me. But then he came back the next year, and I was like, "Man, what have you been eating?" He told me they fed him like four times a day, and I was like, "Dang, that's cool" [laughs].
STACK: So if your cousin starred with the Gators, why did you choose University of Miami to play CB?
PB: As the process went along, I attended a Nike camp in Miami. I had a good camp, [so] Miami offered me. I was kind of young, and just felt like [the decision] was either going to be Florida or Miami. And then it came down to when…one of the [Florida] coaches told me: "If we don't get this certain player, [then we'll offer you a scholarship]." It kind of ticked me off a bit, and I said, "You know what, I'm just gonna go to Miami, and I'm gonna play defensive back."
STACK: What did you learn about recruiting from that setback?
PB: Just to keep your doors open and try to look at every situation as if it's a business decision, which some players might not understand. You gotta do your background check and make sure that the school you're going to pick is good for you. You can't make decisions with your heart; you gotta make decisions with your brain.
STACK: Did you prefer to play WR or CB in college?
PB: I actually wanted to play defensive back at Miami, but…receiver at Florida. The only reason I wanted to go Florida and play WR was because it's my first love. I really feel that the best decision I made in my life was coming to Miami. If I had to do it all over again, I would've probably added baseball in, but I would definitely come to Miami again. I had a really good time.
STACK: You mentioned the tradition the Gators had with their receivers in the 1990s, but what about the Hurricanes' tradition of churning out stud NFL defensive backs?
PB: It's just a great tradition. I was here when [Ed] Reed was here, and he was the vocal leader of our group. We had a lot of respect for him—whatever he preached, you did it. We had [2002 first-round pick] Mike Rumph; and he hustled and did all the right things the coaches wanted him to do. I mean, it was just a personality that we had around here with those guys. And [guys like] Antrel Rolle and Sean Taylor; we had a lot of guys who were just different in their own way, but at the end of the day, we were all a team— and that was the best thing about it.
STACK: Speaking of the NFL, what is your mindset before playing against the Randy Mosses, Reggie Waynes, and Terrell Owenses of the league?
PB: It's time to make some money [laughs]. Whenever you're going up against the guys who are the big name wide receivers, those are the money games, because people are always looking at those situations as: whatever you do against them, people remember. My approach is to just go out there and do my job. Don't try to overanalyze things, but play fast.
STACK: Any other words of wisdom?
PB: Know what you want, make a sacrifice and believe in yourself. I urge everybody to be different and make a sacrifice to make it to the NFL.
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