Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Harrison Phillips has been selected as the team's nominee for the 2020 Salute to Service Award, the NFL announced Thursday.
The Salute to Service Award has been given annually since 2011 as a means to recognize "the exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community to honor and support U.S. service members, veterans and their families."
Nominees are selected to represent each of the league's 32 teams. The group will be narrowed to three finalists later this season and the winner will be announced during Super Bowl week. The winning player will receive a $25,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to a military charity of their choice.
Current Bills wide receiver Andre Roberts – then a member of the Atlanta Falcons – won the award in 2017.
Phillips supports the veteran community in Western New York through his partnership with WNY Heroes, an organization that provides financial assistance to veterans and their families, and with visits to the local Veterans Affairs Hospital.
The third-year defensive tackle's appreciation for service members was informed at a young age, having been surrounded by two grandfathers who served in the U.S. military. A family video exists in which a five-year-old Phillips says he wants to be an "army man" when he grows up.
"I was always infatuated with what my grandfathers did, and I was very appreciative that they did that," Phillips said. "Even just as a kid, I always had army guys that I wanted to play with. I was an army guy for Halloween."
That infatuation developed into a deep-rooted respect as Phillips grew older and began to ask his grandfathers about the details of their service. Through their stories, he was exposed to the principles of selflessness, brotherhood, and high-level attention to detail – traits he feels carry over into football.
Phillips has strived to show his gratitude as his football career has developed, even dating back to his collegiate career at Stanford University.
"Any time there was somebody wearing something military, I would go out of my way to shake their hand and say, 'Thank you for your service,'" he said.
When the Bills welcomed a group of World War II veterans to a walk-through last season, Phillips – who was rehabbing a knee injury – took the opportunity to spend an hour and a half asking questions. He was struck by how their service had seemingly affected their entire lives.
Some of those veterans were accompanied by their own children and grandchildren, who displayed a reverence and encyclopedic knowledge of their service. At the same time, the emotional scars and physical wear that comes with fighting in a war were evident, too.
"It was just so cool to see them and their families be there and how their service in World War II affected their entire lives and the stories that they had and they passed onto their kids," Phillips said.
"Winning that, they were a part of that. They lost friends and people in their platoons, teammates, whatever you want to call it. They witnessed death and they did that for our country. So, it was great to see their appreciation and their view on things."
Phillips seeks to pass those lessons of fortitude on to the children he works with through his own non-profit, The Playmakers Organization. He hopes his nomination for the Salute to Service Award helps amplify his message and encourages others to volunteer their time.
"It's just nice to know that I can help raise awareness, again, for other people who might want to get involved," he said. "There are some people out there, they don't know if they want to get involved with work in the inner city, if they want to get involved with youth, if they want to get involved with kids with special needs. An area that sometimes gets overlooked is working for our veterans and making sure they have the benefits that they need.
"… Anybody I know in my circle or fans of the Bills can reach out to me and I can try to put them in contact with the right people if they have that philanthropic and charitable want in their life. Maybe they were just waiting for the right cause and this is the right cause."