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  • Nick Norris

15 Minutes with Phillip Davenport

From middle school football to the SEC, Phillip has become a nationally respected official

Phillip Davenport is a life-long resident of Jasper who has served the community as a physical therapist at Rehab South for nearly 26 years. On any given fall Saturday, Phillip can usually be spotted on television, officiating college football games in the Southeastern Conference. Otherwise, he is likely spending quality time with his wife and their three sons.

78: How did you get into physical therapy?

My dad, who used to work in the hospital in Jasper, kind of steered me in this direction. It’s a rewarding career being able to help people get back on their feet, seeing them improve. It’s been a fun ride, and I’ve met a lot of great people along the way.

78: It must be inspiring to see people beat the odds and overcome injuries so often in this field.

Absolutely. I think it speaks to the human spirit. People make up their minds and decide they’re going to do what they want to do. And I think that’s true for anything in life. My mom and dad always told me that you can do whatever you put your mind to, and that’s true whether in a rehab setting, in officiating. Whatever you put your mind and passion behind, you can do that. So, it’s always a good feeling when someone comes in and says a doctor told them they won’t be able to do something again, and then later see them doing it.

78: How did you get into officiating?

Believe it or not, I had no interest in officiating. I didn’t like officials when I played, and this is not a career anyone aspires to go into. But, I had a patient here at Rehab South about 25 years ago that officiated games at Walker when I played. He and I used to have several dialogues on the field where I’d fuss and gripe at him. I was doing therapy on his shoulder and he asked me if I had ever considered officiating. I told him absolutely not, but he looked at me and he told me I would love it and would probably be good at it. He claimed it was the next best thing to playing. So, my first ever game was a junior high game at Carbon Hill, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

78: Have you met any notable figures on the job?

Sure, we have interactions with the coaches and players. Not to single anyone out, but anyone you can think of from the past six years that you would consider notable, I have probably had an interaction with at some point. But it’s different than a fan’s perspective. It’s a business type atmosphere. Very rarely is an official just shooting the bull. It’s been a good experience meeting some of those guys and seeing things from close range.

78: Are there any games or calls that stand out from the rest?

Honestly, every game we work is a big game. If you don’t think you’re working a big game, then just mess it up and you’ll see how big it is! So, we approach every game like it’s the biggest game that week. I’ve had the pleasure of working an Iron Bowl. I’ve worked three or four LSU-Auburn games that are special. Any of the games you think of as marquis game in the SEC, those are a pleasure to work. I will say I was proud to work this year’s Rose Bowl between Washington and Ohio State. That was just an honor to be selected. That pageantry and setting was just a real treat.

78: What are some misconceptions fans may have about officiating?

A lot of fans probably think we just show up to the stadium at game time on Saturday. We’re actually there the day before the game, constantly studying film and the rulebook. There are misconceptions that we are out to get a certain team or player, which are absolutely false. Some people think officials are blind. We’re not blind. We actually see pretty good!

But all in all, we understand how important a game on Saturday is to people. We understand how passionate fans are, and I just wish more fans understood that it’s passionate for us too, just in a different way. We put in a lot of time and effort to do it right. And if a call is missed, nobody feels worse than the official who missed it. But the biggest misconception is that we do this alone. It takes having a great work environment and a wonderful family that is willing to sacrifice their time, as well.

I’m very blessed to do what I do.

This article was originally printed in 78 Magazine. Photos courtesy 78 Magazine.

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