Rami Phillips nodded his head, pursed his lips, and kept his eyes on the low-cut grass on the Henry A. Wise High School football field as Oxon Hill distance coach Derell Quick rattled off dozens of things for him to keep in mind for his 2-minute bout in Saturday’s 4A South Region Championship 800-meter run.
He bobbed up and down like a boxer, shaking his lean, toned arms to keep loose before it was his turn to step onto the track.
“He’s going to try and box you out,” said Quick, speaking of Charles H. Flowers runner Jalen Robinson-McCoy, as he paces back and forth in front of the junior middle-distance runner. “You can’t let him.”
Phillips had no intention of losing. He didn’t say a word or even acknowledge Quick’s presence, giving the impression that he might be ignoring every word his coach is hammering into him. But he was listening carefully, taking it all in.
It is a common scene for Phillips, a silent introvert, a leader by example who doesn’t need words to get his message across. When presented with a challenge, Phillips will go after it with a silent, unmatched tenacity.
He got his start as a competitive runner as a sophomore in the fall of 2010 with Oxon Hill’s cross country team. At the time, it was a way to stay in shape for basketball.
In his second cross country meet he crossed the finish line and approached coach Rick Williams and an assistant coach, boasting that he had just run a great time, remembered Williams.
“No, no you didn’t,” replied the assistant, according to Williams.
The two took Phillips to the side and broke down the difference between a good time and a great time. While the sophomore was not hitting “great times” quite yet, Williams knew he was not far from it.
“If you tell him you want him to achieve something, he’s going to go get it,” Williams said. “He’s goal oriented, motivated, and he’s hungry.”
Phillips’ hunger for faster times was not satiated after the fall season. The chase to hit the goals Williams had set for him lured him away from the basketball court and onto the track for the indoor season. That Christmas, Phillips asked his parents to buy him a treadmill so he could train on days when the weather forced him inside. It wasn’t odd, and still isn’t, for the junior to disappear into his basement for more than an hour on rainy or snowy days, pounding away on the treadmill.
“Rami is one of the… no, he is the hardest worker on the team,” Williams said. “He fell in love with track and I let him know that track is an individual sport nine times out of 10 and that he’s going to be on an island by himself. He accepted the challenge. Every week he’s doing great things.”
Even when Williams gives Phillips the day off, he will often head back home and run 5 miles around the neighborhood.
“A lot of times we have to try and slow him down,” said Williams with a laugh. “But if I had 10 Ramis I’d have a state title no doubt.”
With the state championship meet still to come this weekend, Phillips has surpassed every goal Williams set for him at the beginning of the season.
He broke the 1 minute, 57 second barrier in the 800 as he won the Prince George’s County title on May 12. He then blew that time away a week later at the 4A South Region Championships, hitting 1:55.31 and claiming the No. 1 time in the state this season in the process.
“I’ll take [personal records] anytime,” he said with a wide smile, complete with bright green braces.
Not two hours before that, Phillips hit his preseason goal in the 1,600, finishing in 4:25.35 after holding off a valiant effort from Bowie’s Joshua Wilkins. His finish in both races might as well have been playing on a loop: keep it at a dead tie until the 200-meter mark, then shift to fifth gear and hold it until the finish.
Was he worried Wilkins was going to outlast him in the 1,600?
“Nah,” he said, grinning and shaking his head as he untied his black and neon-orange Nikes.
He wasn’t concerned that Robinson-McCoy or DuVal’s Sodiq Amusat might have had more left in the tank in the 800 either. The three had no more than a meter separating them as they hit the final turn, but then it was almost as if somebody had shot the starter’s pistol again. As soon as he hit the turn Phillips bounded ahead, created a comfortable lead by the time he reached the straightaway and held the kick until the finish line.
Afterward there was no celebration. He nodded towards Robinson-McCoy and Amusat, sat back down on a bench, and quietly slipped back out of his Nikes and into his sweats.
“He’s that silent leader we need,” Williams said. “He leads by example.”