Berrien Springs' Phillip Paea growing into attention and offers

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

An offer from Michigan State started a recruiting avalanche for Phillip Paea.

The junior lineman from Berrien Springs, Mich., finished his most recent football season with only one scholarship offer. BYU extended one back in October, but no other schools followed suit a that time.

That was until Feb. 11, when Michigan State gave him an offer. Then the benevolent onslaught began.

Oregon, Michigan and Central Michigan followed suit. The following Monday, Notre Dame and Nebraska joined the fray. He ended the week with new offers from Minnesota, Miami and Western Michigan. In a 10-day span, Paea totaled nine offers.

Paea had hoped more college scholarship offers would be coming his way. He’s worked hard to put himself in this position. But he never imagined it would be happening so soon.

“I had a sense, but I didn’t figure it would happen until senior year,” Paea said.

Some recruiting services have yet to catch up with Paea’s evaluation. He has no star rating from 247Sports, Scout or ESPN. Rivals rates him as a three-star recruit.

Paea can expect more attention to follow him at Berrien Springs High School.

“It’s been pretty hectic, but I’m still trying to stay humble, work hard in the weight room and in class,” Paea said. “I want to make sure I finish out the school year really strong.”

His recent string of offers may paint Paea as an overnight sensation, but he’s far from it. Paea played fullback and inside linebacker on varsity as a 6-foot-3, 220-pound freshman. He continued to play linebacker and moved to offensive line as 240-pound as a sophomore. This past season, Paea played offensive line and defensive end.

“He just kept growing,” said Berrien Springs head coach Tony Scaccia. “He’s probably in line for another position change. We’re probably going to have to move him inside and have him play defensive tackle. That’s kind of where he belongs at this point.”

Colleges are recruiting Paea, now 6-4, 282 pounds, as an offensive lineman or defensive tackle depending on the school. And many of those schools are familiar with the coaching staff at Berrien Springs from the recruitment of defensive end Jhonny Williams and offensive lineman Nick Padla in 2014.

Williams signed with Notre Dame and has since transferred to Toledo. Padla is a redshirt freshman at Michigan State.

Mark Staten, Michigan State’s offensive line coach, invited Paea to come up for a visit, and that's when his recruitment started to roll.

“When Mark said, ‘Phillip, we’re really interested,’ we went up there and met (head) coach (Mark) Dantonio, and he made an offer,” Scaccia said. “The floodgates opened after that.”

After the Berrien Springs coaching staff sent Irish recruiting coordinator Mike Elston film of Paea, Notre Dame did the same. Paea visited Notre Dame on Feb. 15. A few hours after the visit, Elston told him he had a scholarship offer.

“It was really great,” Paea said of his Notre Dame visit. “You can tell there’s a lot of leadership there, not only from the coaches, but from the players also.”

Notre Dame prefers Paea as a defensive tackle, but Scaccia said offensive line coach Harry Hiestand also had interest in him.

“They wanted me to come out and play defensive tackle for them,” Paea said. “That would be a new position for me, but it looks like this year I’ll be transitioning into a defensive tackle. At least when I go to the next level, I’ll be used to the position a little bit.”

Position preference won’t play much of a role in Paea’s recruitment. His only inclination is the position that will give him a quicker path to playing time.

“I love defense, just because there are no rules really,” Paea said. “It’s just see ball, get ball. If I was being honest with myself, I’d probably be a better offensive lineman.”

Such flexibility has allowed Paea to thrive as a high school football player. He responds to the direction given to him by the Berrien Springs coaching staff and trusts the process.

“If you explain things to Phillip and you articulate, ‘Hey, Phillip, this is what we’re going to do today, this is why and it’s going to make you better,’ he’ll buy in and do that,” Scaccia said. “Phillip doesn’t have his own ideas about how to be a better football player. He takes coaching.”

With the scholarships coming his way, Paea will reserve the right to be choosy. He’s earned it. But he knows it’s not over yet. The work doesn’t stop.

“I’ve been pretty much working all year round since my freshman year,” Paea said. “My coaches expected big things from me, so I wanted to make them proud but also myself and my family.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Phillip Paea, a two-way lineman at Berrien Springs (Mich.) High, received offers from Notre Dame, Michigan State and Michigan in a five-day span in February. (Photo provided)
Phillip Paea (58), a two-way lineman at Berrien Springs (Mich.) High, received offers from Notre Dame, Michigan State and Michigan in a five-day span in February. (Photo provided)