Academics People and Community

Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips tackled hurdles to earn his degree

The California native returned to the University of Miami to complete his degree after being drafted in 2021.
Jaelen Phillips
Jaelen Phillips

Miami Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips has had his share of challenges, academically and professionally. Medically retired from football after an injury in college in 2018, he returned to the game he loved in 2019 as a defensive lineman for the University of Miami.

Originally a music major, with dreams of becoming a producer, Phillips transferred to the Bachelor of General Studies(B.G.S.) program after he was drafted by the Dolphins in 2021. He said the flexibility of the program, offered through the Division of Continuing and International Education, made his classes more manageable with the demands of his NFL career.

Despite a few setbacks, including a season-ending injury with the Dolphins last year, Phillips, 24, said his mother has been his biggest inspiration to keep going and complete his degree.  

“She works in education, and it was important to her that her son and her daughter both went to college,’’ he said. “It was important to me, too. I’m grateful to the U and the B.G.S. program for helping me. They do a great job and were there every step of the way.”

Phillips said he encourages other student athletes at the U to reach out if they need help balancing athletics with academics.

“Take advantage of all the resources they offer at the U,’’ he said. “There are people who will help you. Things may not always be perfect but if you do your best and stick with it, things will work out.”

Read about his experiences at the University.

Where are you from originally, and what is your major?

I’m originally from Redlands, California. My major is general studies, with a concentration in music and social studies.

Why this major? How’d you get interested in the topic? 

I grew up in a musical family. Both my parents play instruments, and my grandfather is a symphony conductor. It’s always been a big part of my life. When I got a football scholarship to UM, I came down and toured the Frost School of Music and was so impressed. I did an impromptu audition, shared my audio, and they accepted me into the (music business) program. Eventually, due to the demands of the NFL, I switched to general studies, but I’ve always been interested in music and plan to get back to it after football. 

What attracted you to the University?

The football program of course was a big incentive for me. When I found out about the Frost School of Music and its reputation as one of the best music schools in the country, it was the perfect package.

What kept you here?

My first year at UM, being on campus and experiencing student life, was just great. It’s a beautiful campus. I enjoyed it. Then Covid hit and everything went online. After that, once I was with the Dolphins, the flexibility of the B.G.S. program enabled me to continue my studies. The professors were great. 

Did you have any involvements while at the University?

My main involvement was with the football team, but we did do a lot of community service and other programs through Student Affairs as student athletes that I really enjoyed.

How did the University help you identify a career choice or path?

I loved my time at the Frost School of Music and that reinforced my desire to go into music production or audio engineering. The professors at Frost are the real deal. It was an incredible experience.

How has the Univesity prepared you for the future?

Every experience I had at the U was great—from football to Frost and now B.G.S. But I would say connecting with the alumni network, mainly within the football world, was second to none. The support and connections I gained have had a lasting impact on my life.

Who or what made a great impact on your collegiate career at the University?

That would have to be (associate athletic director) Demetreus Darden. He has been my main advisor during my time at UM. He was crucial in helping me finish my degree. Also, coach Todd Stroud (senior advisor for football operations). He made a lasting impact on my life. I still talk to him to this day.

What experience or accomplishment are you most proud of?

I was named to the All-America First Team for football and an Academic All-American, too. That achievement for academic excellence meant a lot to me. I believe how you do one thing is how you do everything.

What is your favorite campus experience, tradition, memory, spot on campus, etc.?

I remember a lot of fun times at the food halls and of course being at the Frost was incredible. But for me, it was the football facilities especially, that were so amazing. The Greentree Practice Fields are legendary. Those are some of my best memories.

Who or what will you miss the most about the University?

I’ll miss the campus; how beautiful it is.

What’s next?

I want to continue to excel in the NFL. I’m heading into my fourth season with the Dolphins and I’m excited for that. I’d like to pursue some other ventures too, including getting back into music production someday and maybe taking some higher-level courses in that area.