Lawrence Phillips, who starred at Nebraska in the mid-1990s and was the sixth overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft, was found dead in his California prison cell Wednesday, the victim of an apparent suicide.
Phillips’ NFL career was short-lived. He played for the Rams in 1996 and part of 1997, before playing for six other professional teams from 1997 to 2003. He had a series of legal issues in the years that followed, many of them for violent offenses. In fact, Phillips was suspected of killing his cellmate, Damion Soward, and had been living alone in a segregation cell since last April.
Phillips was 40 years old.
“My heart just goes out (to his family),” former Rams receiver Isaac Bruce said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “You can tell that Lawrence had some issues and was troubled at times, but I think a lot of people really didn’t get a chance to know who the real Lawrence Philips was. Lawrence was a very intelligent guy. He’d say some things that really would enlighten others, but you can tell there were issues there and things of that nature. I kind of look at it and say, I wish that when we were teammates I could have been a little more mature, or a little bit more bolder, just to give Lawrence a hug and let him know that he’s loved. You don’t have to perform for people. Just be yourself and really just get to know him on a more personal level. It’s a tragic ending to what I thought was a ton of potential and a guy who was very athletic and could do other things and be intellectually sound, I think.”
Bruce was asked if Phillips ever seemed alone.
“At times, he was,” Bruce said, “but at the same time, I remember times on the bus heading to charters, he would be in the center of the conversation. He would be joyful. In the locker room, he would be joyful and have tons of quips and things he could say on any subject. I’ll take this opportunity and just remember the good times.”
Phillips, who rushed for more than 3,000 yards at Nebraska, rushed for 1,453 yards and 14 touchdowns in 35 games in the NFL.
“You’re talking about one of the hardest-working running backs I’ve ever seen in practice and his ability to prepare for a football game,” Bruce said. “He’ll definitely be missed (by) his former teammates, especially those back in Nebraska, where he was a great, great college football player.”