Mason Phillips is going to be a Tar Heel.
The Stanwood wrestling standout verbally committed Monday via his Twitter page to continue his athletic and academic career at the University of North Carolina, and will head to Chapel Hill to begin the 2018-19 term.
— Mason Phillips (@MasonPhilllips) October 17, 2017
Phillips, who will wrestle in the 149-pound weight class in college, said he received interest from Ohio State, Oregon State and Nebraska, and took official visits to Columbus and Corvallis, but he simply fell in love with North Carolina.
“I went to North Carolina on a visit a couple weeks ago, and just loved it. I wasn’t really interested in going anywhere else after that,” Phillips said Tuesday.
Phillips is a two-time defending Greco-Roman national champion, a 2017 Cadet World Team member and undefeated two-time Washington state champion, and will begin his senior season with the Spartans in a dual at Jackson on Nov. 30.
He is ninth nationally at 145 pounds in FloWrestling’s national high school rankings, and is No. 79 on the publication’s Class of 2018 Big Board. Phillips is the first Stanwood wrestler to commit to an NCAA Division I program.
He said his athletic scholarship from UNC is not a full one, but “just about,” and will be eligible to sign a National Letter of Intent on Nov. 8, the first day of the fall signing period.
Like many incoming freshmen wrestlers, Phillips is likely to redshirt his first year on campus.
“That’s the plan, unless for some reason they need me to step in,” Phillips said. “After the redshirt year I’ll be more adjusted to the volume of conditioning and training and just being in a college wrestling room.”
As a redshirt, Phillips would train with all the active wrestlers and compete in open tournaments.
Phillips’ decision to commit to North Carolina instead of Ohio State, likely came as a surprise to some, given that he spent six months living and training in Akron, Ohio this year with Team USA veteran and two-time world bronze medalist Justin “Harry” Lester.
Phillips said he asked all his coaches’ advice during the recruiting process and they all told him to go where he wanted to go.
While in Ohio, Phillips made regular trips to the Regional Training Center in Columbus, where several Buckeye stars train in the offseason and Ohio State coach Tom Ryan is on staff.
But Phillips said the combination of his confidence in the North Carolina coaching staff and the chance to earn a degree from the No. 18 business school in the country — UNC’s Kenan-Flagler — won out.
“On the wrestling side of it, the head coach there, Coleman Scott, is about my same weight and still gets on the mat. With him and (assistant coach) Tony Ramos in the room, the knowledge of the coaching staff really blew me away,” Phillips said. “They have an Olympian in Kenny Monday running their offseason training program, and my wrestling style meshes really well with what Coach Scott teaches.”
“And on the academic side of it, I get to go to a school that has one of the best business schools in the country, and I know I”ll get a really good education. That was a big thing for me.”
Phillips said that he was looking for more options in his recruiting and North Carolina had always interested him.
“(Stanwood coach Ray) Mather sent them an e-mail and said I was interested in them, and it turned out that they were interested in me, too,” he said. “Once I got in contact, it was really obvious that they wanted me, and it seemed that they wanted me more than some of the other coaches I was talking to, which is always very appealing.”
On his visit to Chapel Hill, Phillips took in a Tar Heels football game and spent time with the men who will now be his coaches and teammates.
He left North Carolina feeling like it was the place where he would be best positioned to accomplish his lofty goals — the next of which is winning an NCAA championship.
“The coaches, not only do they believe in me, but I believe in them,” Phillips said. “The first time I ever met them in person, I felt like I had been around them for a long time. I just fit right in. They welcomed me like I had been there for a while.”