By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Stanford senior guard Andrew Phillips found comfort and support with his extended family while coming to grips with the tragic loss of his father, Bill Phillips, in a plane crash earlier this month in Alaska.
"I love this team," Phillips said Monday as the Cardinal football team began final preparations for its season opener. "I would do anything for any one of them, especially after all this. It's been unbelievable. I never had to go through anything alone and that meant a lot."
One day into summer training camp, Phillips was awoken by a phone call from his mother saying there was a plane crash, that his father and younger brother, Willie, were aboard and that some people were dead and some were alive.
In a plane crash that also took the life of former Alaska senator Ted Stevens, Phillips was able to rejoice that his 13-year-old brother survived the crash and acted heroically in helping other injured passengers despite a broken bone in his face, a broken wrist and broken bones in his foot.
Willy Phillips began school Monday confined to a wheelchair as he progresses through the healing process, which required minor surgery to his face and two surgeries on his foot, with more to come.
"We were all devastated," Stanford redshirt quarterback Andrew Luck said. "A lot of guys didn't know what to do in such a terrible situation. A couple of us went to the funeral because we didn't want him to be alone."
Luck said players maintained contact with Phillips through e-mails and text messages.
"We tried to keep him up to date on what was happening here," Luck said. "It was weird when he wasn't in the huddle because he's such a presence on this team. When he got back, we tried to lighten it up a little but he was in a football mode and we had to be serious too."
Senior center Chase Beeler and the offensive line named Phillips an honorary captain for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game against Sacramento State.
"We all wish it didn't happen," Luck said. "At the same time, it brought people closer together. Guys were suddenly talking to their parents a lot more and not taking things for granted."
"It shocked everybody," Cardinal senior fullback-linebacker Owen Marecic said of the ineffable situation. "It was a tough hit to the gut. We were there for him and I think we came together through that."
His lips are sealed
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh will not be divulging any injury secrets this year. In fact, it was difficult to pin him down on who may or may not start at some positions.
Junior wide receiver-return specialist Chris Owusu was not listed on the depth chart released for the first week.
"Chris is working through something physically," Harbaugh said reluctantly. "He could possibly play. We haven't ruled anybody out."
He later added, "I'm trying to respect the young man's wishes and those of his family and I hope you do too."
Sophomore punter Daniel Zychlinski was listed ahead of returning starter David Green but Harbaugh would only say, "You'll have to see which one we run out there Saturday."
Harbaugh also did not tip his hand on the starting running back, but did say redshirt freshman Levine Toilolo is the leader to start at tight end and that junior corner Johnson Badesmosi earned a start "by playing the best."
Fifth-year senior tackle Derek Hall is slated to make his first career start, as is free safety Michael Thomas.
Should sophomore Stepfan Taylor get the nod over Jeremy Stewart, it would also be his first career start.
For the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era, Stanford opens the season against a nonconference opponent. "College football is unique in that there is no dress rehearsal," Harbaugh said. "There are no exhibition games. From game one it's the real deal." . . . Barry Browning, Blake Lueders and Ed Reynolds are among the true freshmen who are most likely to see game action. . . . Stanford is 7-3 over its past 10 season openers. . . . Sacramento State is the first non-FBS opponent for the Cardinal since losing to UC Davis in 2005.