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Alumna Kirsten Phillips Finds UW Team Spirit Wherever She Goes

April 19, 2018
head portrait of a woman
Kirsten Phillips (Photo by Matt May)

What are the odds that a person born in Atlanta, raised in Las Vegas, graduating from the University of Wyoming and working for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, would reconnect with a former UW football player who himself had gone halfway around the world and back, and was then playing on the Bucs’ practice squad?

That person is Kirsten Phillips, and neither she nor Eric Nzeocha (B.S. ’15, B.S. ’16) could believe the coincidence that brought them to work for the same organization. Phillips credits this “full-circle moment” as one of many that come from being UW alumni.

Phillips works for the Buccaneers as a video producer. Previously, she worked as an intern or trainee with football teams in St. Louis and San Diego, where she bumped into other former UW players or coaches. “For whatever reason, UW has managed to follow me wherever I go,” she says.

Phillips initially chose UW because she wanted to be a large animal veterinarian. Her campus visit coincided with a UNLV versus Wyoming football game. “I fell in love with the atmosphere. It was such a spirited school and town. I planned to bring my horse and be on the equestrian team. Cowboys and horses were everywhere. It was everything I wanted,” she says.

Unfortunately, during her sophomore year, her horse died of colic. “It was the worst thing that had ever happened to me, and I knew then I couldn’t make a career out of working with horses,” Phillips says. She says being on the equestrian team helped her heal. At around that time, Phillips had been interning for the athletics department in video production. She had little experience, but she loved sports in general, especially football. As an intern, she found herself filming practices at the top of the crow’s nest that once rose above the south end zone. “I woke up super early before the sun was up, when it was negative 12 degrees, filmed practice, then went to class,” Phillips says.

“It escalated into the most amazing experience,” she says. “This doesn’t happen at large universities. UW is special. Things happen organically because they are driven by human connections.” Phillips credits Dave Christensen, team coach at the time, for encouraging her to learn to create highlight videos edited with music that helped everyone get pumped up before games, and video coordinator Chris Miller, for making the opportunity happen for her.

“I felt like I was already part of the team because I was always there, making materials for recruits, giving tours,” she recalls. “I thought, gosh, this is so much fun, this would be amazing to get into sports marketing or video production for a job.” She switched her major to communication and mass media and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2014.

Phillips’ job title is community outreach producer. She makes videos highlighting a player’s involvement in philanthropy, for example, or short videos that can be used throughout the season to showcase a player’s contributions on and off the field. She describes football as a “big family” but notes it is a family of mostly men. “Being a woman in my position is a little unusual, because women who work in video production are more likely to be in front of the camera, as reporters.” Although Phillips interviews players, she does so from behind the camera, adding, “People seem surprised and say they’ve never seen a camera woman before.”

Phillips finds special meaning in highlighting players’ philanthropy work because of an experience she had while producing videos at UW. A young boy, Hunter Hansen, had been diagnosed with leukemia and received a gift from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. His desire was to attend the 2012 CSU versus Wyoming Border War, which the Cowboys would go on to win. “My job was to film him during his visit,” Phillips says. “It was so special. He helped carry the Bronze Boot trophy off the field and all the way into locker room. The whole team cheered, and everyone was in tears. That sparked something for me, for what I wanted in my real job.”

She took that desire to what some may call an extreme, when she shaved her head to show support for a Buccaneer player’s fundraising efforts for pediatric cancer research. For a male athlete to shave his head is not extreme at all. But for a young woman with long hair to do it made a difference in pushing other players to contribute. “It’s only hair,” she says. “It is growing back in.” And the story captures what she’s come to truly believe: “Football is so much more than what happens on the field.”


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