UNLV Football Player Shows How to Stay Catholic in College

Marc Philippi credits his powerlifting father and home-schooling mother for maintaining stability and strengthening his faith.

Marc Philippi
Marc Philippi (photo: Courtesy of the Philippi family)

The University of Nevada-Las Vegas football team is trying to bounce back from a dismal 2014 record of 2 wins and 11 losses. On paper, this seems like a mighty challenge, but on the field, things are looking quite good. This fresh look is largely due to the team’s new head coach, Tony Sanchez. The 41-year-old won an amazing six state championships in six years (2009-2014) at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.

The first three of those state championships were made possible in part because of the efforts of Marc Philippi, now a UNLV fullback. Philippi, who shares the same first name (but not the same spelling) as his powerlifting-champion father, has always enjoyed football above other sports. The senior business-management major hopes to cap off his collegiate gridiron career with a much-improved record.

Regardless of results on the field, however, Philippi knows that maintaining his Catholic identity is the most important thing in life. The oldest of five children, Philippi has a deep appreciation for being home-schooled through eighth grade by his mother, Tracey. It was at home that he received a solid understanding of what the Church teaches — an understanding that he continues to live out today.

Philippi explained this and other things that keep him grounded to Register correspondent Trent Beattie in anticipation of UNLV’s season opener against Northern Illinois University on Sept. 5.


Your new football coach this year is also your old coach. What is it like to play for your former high-school coach, who is also Catholic?

Ever since Coach Sanchez was hired as UNLV’s head coach after last season ended, teammates and reporters have asked me about that. He’s very friendly and will have a normal conversation with you off the field. He’s interested in how you’re doing in life as a human being, and he shows it.

At the same time, Coach Sanchez is very demanding and expects great things from everyone. He sees us not just improving a little this season, but really going out there and winning games. In order to do that, you have to approach each practice with intensity, and that’s what he does. He’s an up-tempo coach, and I’m really excited to be playing for him again.


Are there distinctly Catholic aspects of his coaching style?

At Bishop Gorman, we had Masses before every game, and we’d also pray before every game. At UNLV, we had some of that before Tony’s arrival. We had a Catholic chaplain, and there was Mass for players who were interested. However, I suspect we’ll have a few more players and coaches attending Mass this year. I also think we’ll be praying the Our Father before games, as we have been doing before each practice. It’s not as extensive as our team prayer in high school, but it is something that Catholics and non-Catholics on the team value, or at least respect.


Your father, Mark, was a champion weightlifter and now runs the Philippi Sports Institute in Las Vegas. How has he influenced your athletic career?

My father was a really big influence on me. He was the 1996 World Drug-Free Powerlifting Champion and the winner of the 1997 America’s Strongest Man competition. Even though he had a drive to be the best, he never pushed me into athletics. Yet I always looked up to him on my own, so I wanted to be strong like he was. I enjoyed all the weightlifting and trying to get stronger and stronger. You could even say that my physical strength has always been my strength as an athlete.

Weightlifting is a great preparation for football, my favorite sport. I also played basketball and baseball, but it was funny, because, even when playing other sports, I would still think of football. That’s where my heart was, no matter where the rest of my body was. I found myself drawn to the challenge provided by the aggressive and powerful nature of football.


Is it difficult to remain Catholic in college, especially in a city like Las Vegas?

The transition from high school to college is always a challenge. I think Catholics might have it toughest, because Protestants generally do a better job of attracting college-age people, through concerts and other things with a party-type atmosphere. Oftentimes, nondenominational groups seem very welcoming because they do not emphasize a lifestyle change/repentance from sin that is an essential part of following the Gospel message.

However, I’ve found the transition from high school to college fairly easy, for two main reasons: I was taught the Catholic faith well, and I’m still in the same city as my family. We understand how important Catholicism is, and we still attend Mass as a family on Sundays. During the week, I’ll go to the Newman Center, but on the weekends, it’s back with my family.

It is true, though, that Vegas has a very Godless culture. There’s a “live for today” mindset that doesn’t recognize the importance of long-term goals. Prayer and rational thought don’t have a lot of support in this city, but I think it’s easier for someone who has lived here his whole life to avoid the problems than for someone who’s coming here for the first time. Despite the challenges, there is a strong Catholic presence in the city, which gives credence to the truth that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

Reading good books is a big help, too. I like the work of Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor from Boston College. His A Refutation of Moral Relativism is one of my favorite books. It shows how moral relativism can sound great, but it really lacks depth and is actually self-refuting. In other words, if everything were relative, then the statement “everything is relative” fails its own standard, because it’s making a claim for objective truth.

The fact of the matter is: Certain things are true, regardless of how we might feel about them on any given day. This isn’t something that today’s culture likes to hear, but it’s a call back to simple logic and the peace of mind that it brings.

Do you think being home-schooled provided you with a solid foundation of faith?

I really do. My mom had worked as a nurse and then as a sales rep at a pharmaceutical company. They were both good jobs, but when I was in first or second grade, it dawned on her how important raising her own children was. The Church teaches us that parents are the primary educators of their children, and it’s also true, unfortunately, that you can’t be sure these days of what your kids will be exposed to in school, even when it’s a Catholic one.

Because of these realizations, my mom really took her role as a mother to heart and started home schooling me and then my younger siblings. She was there to take care of all our immediate needs, which showed us not only by words, but by example, what a loving Catholic home is like. That’s an irreplaceable thing to have in your life, since you’re only a kid once. I was home-schooled through eighth grade, and then entered Bishop Gorman High School


Do you have a patron saint?

St. Mark, you wouldn’t be surprised to know, is a patron of mine. This is not only because of his name, but because he is symbolized by a lion. I like that fierce imagery, because as a football player, you need to kind of have your hair on fire, so to speak, in order to play well. St. Jerome is appealing to me for similar reasons: He had a temper, so I think he would be a good football player.

Rounding out my team of saints are Anthony of Padua and Faustina Kowalska. Anthony is my middle name, and Faustina is closely associated with the Divine Mercy devotion. She gave us the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which is my favorite devotion. Everyone needs mercy, and the chaplet, really, is quite simple.


Do you know what you’ll do after college?

I’m studying business management now, and after graduation, I will probably pursue a master’s of business administration [degree]. I don’t know exactly what type of business I’ll get into, but I’m open to God’s plan. I pray every day for the light to know and strength to do God’s will.

Knowing and doing God’s will is a short description of sainthood, which is something every Catholic should be pursuing. It might sound daunting, but God never fails to give us what we need, if only we ask him. So whatever the specifics ahead might be, I know that as long as I keep praying, things will be good. There’s a saying that if you pray well, you’ll live well; if you live well, you’ll die well; and if you die well, all will be well.

Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.