Miami Dolphins

Dolphins' Jaelan Phillips Mentors Incarcerated Youth in Florida

The second-year linebacker has made quite the impact in the South Florida community

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Jaelan Phillips is a native of Southern California, but he’s called South Florida home for the past few years.

The linebacker transferred from UCLA to the University of Miami in 2019. After starring with the Hurricanes in 2020, Phillips was selected 18th overall by the Miami Dolphins in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The 23-year-old is now in Year 2 with the Dolphins, on the heels of a 2021 campaign where he set the single-season franchise rookie record for sacks with 8.5.

Phillips felt embraced by the South Florida community since his arrival from SoCal three-plus years ago, and it was very important for him to give back to that welcoming community.

He made such an impact off the field as a rookie that he won the Nat Moore Community Service Award, which is a Dolphins team honor that recognizes a player for his involvement in the South Florida community. 

Phillips was the first rookie to ever earn the honor after partaking in numerous charitable activities, from participating in food and gift distributions for those in need during the holiday season to providing resources to Surfside residents following the tragic collapse of the condo.

Nowadays, Phillips is focusing a lot of his community efforts on the VERB Kind organization. VERB stands for “victory everyday restoring belief,” and the organization focuses on the mentoring of incarcerated youth. Their mission is to help jailed youth “feel loved and acceptance through time spent and building relationships.”

“The VERB Kind is an organization that is giving back to communities all over through mentoring incarcerated youth, giving them a second chance by spending time with them, helping them feel the hope for their future,” VERB Kind founder Haley Hunt said in an interview with NBC LX. “And we do that by actually physically going into the detention centers, hanging out with kids that are locked up and helping them plug into the resources that are in their communities.

“... We are winning every day by restoring belief not only in humanity and in the communities, but in these children, because they don't believe in themselves anymore. You know, a lot of these kids, they don't have dads, they don't have moms. Maybe they've messed up and they're never going to come back. But a lot of these kids, this is all they know. They need somebody to help them know that there is a different way.”

Phillips has made multiple trips to juvenile detention centers, even bringing some teammates along with him. The linebacker focuses on providing help and motivation to the kids, and gets gratification from being able “to make their day” with his visits.

“I'll just come down and just talk to the kids. These kids are just like us and they really only just need a little bit of motivation and help,” Phillips told NBC LX. “So that's what we try to do.

“... It’s just joyful, especially with kids. You know, that next generation, they're so impactful and they're so impressionable, being so young. And so to be able to get in there, they're really just they have pure energy, pure joy and excitement. So to make their day just is honestly one of the best feelings ever.”

Phillips is no stranger to adversity. He medically retired from football after two injury-plagued seasons at UCLA where he suffered multiple concussions and ankle sprains from playing, in addition to a severe wrist injury from when he was hit by a car while driving a moped.

Phillips was able to overcome that adversity, eventually working his way back onto the football field and turning himself into a first-round NFL draft pick, and now he’s trying to help others do the same.

“I think that's one of the most important things that we can do as NFL players,” he said of his community work. “We have this amazing platform where these kids and even adults look up to us and idolize us. So for us to be able to set the example and really give back and show everybody else how important it is to give back, I think that's really more important than anything else that we do as athletes.”

As Hunt explains, there’s value in people with a platform like Phillips getting out in the community and lending a helping hand.

“The reason why people with a platform should do this kind of thing is because it motivates others to serve. And if your favorite athlete has time and is willing to go in and serve these kids, it's just the way our society is, they see somebody else doing it, they're going to do.

“... But when you go in and you're not expecting to get anything and you get everything, it changes your life. And we need people, you know. So when they're able to see someone like a Jaelan Phillips that's so passionate and compassionate, and he doesn't have to spend time with these kids, you know, he doesn't have to be excited about changing lives. But if he can do that, then it's so motivating for somebody because a lot of us look up to pro athletes and people who are successful. 

“We all know that we all need a second chance, you know. We all deserve a second chance.”

Sunday Night Football - primetime TV’s #1 show for an unprecedented 11 consecutive years – kicks off each week during the NFL season at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.

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