Monday, May 10, 2021

Sports Person of the Week

Billings Guided the Tigers to Greatness on the Gridiron


Senior captain Phoenix Billings led the Tigers to three phenomenal seasons in his tenure as the quarterback for the Hand football squad. Phoenix is now getting ready to play baseball in the spring. Photo courtesy of Phoenix Billings

Senior captain Phoenix Billings led the Tigers to three phenomenal seasons in his tenure as the quarterback for the Hand football squad. Phoenix is now getting ready to play baseball in the spring. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Billings )

Phoenix Billings has one more season left before he concludes what has been a spectacular two-sport career at Daniel Hand High School. One week after guiding the Tigers’ football team to the championship game of the Class L State Playoffs, Phoenix was lifting weights and swinging a bat in a cage to prepare for a baseball season that is still a few months away.

“That’s it, just a week of down time,” says Phoenix. “Just enough time to let your body unwind and to take a little mental time off.”

This past fall, Phoenix completed his career as the quarterback for the Hand football team, while leading the Tigers as a senior captain. This spring, he will play shortstop for the baseball team. Phoenix has competed at the highest levels of football and baseball since he was a youngster and feels that playing both sports is a huge asset for him.

“What you learn from football you can take over to baseball. You’re using many of the same muscles,” Phoenix says. “I throw a football and I have to make many throws in baseball. As a quarterback, you’re constantly making decisions. The mental side of the game. As a shortstop in baseball, you’re like a quarterback. A decision maker.”

Phoenix took over as Hand’s QB in his sophomore year in 2017. He piloted the team to the Class L state title in consecutive seasons and then led the Tigers back to the Class L final to face St. Joseph while riding a 36-game win streak during the 2019 campaign. In a tough, defensive battle, St. Joseph held on for a 17-13 victory after Hand tried to come back in the closing minutes.

It was an emotional end to the season for the Tigers. Phoenix says it meant lot that Head Coach Dave Mastroianni returned to the sidelines for the state final. Mastroianni had been coaching from the press box for the past several weeks after being diagnosed with cancer of the appendix earlier in the year.

“He brought us together, made us a team, told us that it wasn’t about any one player—it was always team, program, and community,” Phoenix says of Mastroianni. “Each one of us, however, was important to him. How we developed, how we were growing into young men—that’s really what mattered. It’s what made us so successful. We wanted to win for him, to make him feel happy, and do whatever we could to improve his health.”

Phoenix put up some impressive numbers throughout his football career at Hand. He threw for a school-record 74 touchdowns, had 5,334 passing yards, gained 1,746 yards on the ground, and also ran for 31 touchdowns. This past season, Phoenix had 31 touchdown passes and set a school record when he threw six TDs in Hand’s playoff victory versus Newington. All totaled, the Tigers went 37-2 with Phoenix at quarterback.

Coach Mastroianni knew that he had something special in Phoenix ever since the QB stepped under center as a sophomore.

“The thing that won Phoenix the job was his poise and command. Even the seniors listened to him back then,” Mastroianni says. “Each year, I saw Phoenix grow as both a player and a person. He’s always been a fierce competitor who wanted the game on his shoulders. That quality is rare in today’s world.”

Phoenix is looking forward to leading the Hand baseball team in his senior season this spring. The Tigers are coming off a campaign that saw them win 15 games and advance to the Class L state quarterfinals last year.

“We’ve had two, good back-to-back years, but we’ve lost a few good players. Key players. So, opponents might expect us to be a little down,” says Phoenix. “I know we’ll be scrappy, and I like that. We might even be able to sneak up on a few of those teams and catch them by surprise.”

Phoenix will be continuing his baseball career at the collegiate level. Next year, Phoenix is going to compete for Head Coach Jim Penders with the baseball team at UConn.

“I chose UConn because they were the first ones to show an interest in me. That was special,” says Phoenix, who plans on majoring in business. “At first, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to stay in state, but once I thought about their program and how they like to pursue in-state kids, I knew I wanted to play for Coach Penders.”

Phoenix never dreamed that he would see so much success when he first suited up for the Tigers in his sophomore year. Phoenix says that achieving these feats alongside such a great collection of coaches and teammates has been the best part of the experience.

“They have kept me grounded. It’s nice to be recognized and I appreciate everything that’s been done for me, but it’s still always about the team, about winning for each other,” Phoenix says. “Many of these guys will be my friends forever. That’s what really matters.”

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