Randy Phillips knew he was far from home the moment he headed toward the bathroom at a South Beach nightclub a few years ago.
Before he could make his way, he was stopped by the friend who accompanied him at the club. The friend asked if Phillips wanted an escort from his gun-carrying bodyguard.
It was then he knew how lavish life was going to be hanging with this new friend, former University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, now in prison for his role in a Ponzi scheme.
"I felt like I was on top of the world," Phillips said. "Man, I come from Belle Glade, Florida. We don't have a Wal-Mart. We don't have a movie theater. So imagine this."
Phillips, who played at UM from 2005-09, was one of the players named in the scandalous Yahoo Sports! report that shocked college football the summer of 2011. None of the accused has spoken publicly on his involvement with Shapiro.
The university is expected to receive its penalty Tuesday after an investigation of the allegations, of which Phillips says most are true. He would know, considering he says he was Shapiro's right-hand man throughout college. There were cars. There were expensive meals. There were clothes. And, of course, there were women.
"I know if [Shapiro] said it, he did it," Phillips said. "There were no lies in there, not to my knowledge. ... The stuff that he said [in the Yahoo Sports! article], he had already told me had happened."
Phillips refused to be interviewed by the NCAA during its probe of the UM program.
Phillips became a passenger on the money train in the fall of his freshman year in 2005. He and a few teammates were invited to Shapiro's South Beach home, where they ate steaks and rode Jet Skis. Shapiro instantly took a liking to Phillips. So a friendship began, and it developed to a point that Phillips was referred to in the Yahoo article as the "Queen Bee" of rounding up players for Shapiro.
"From there on, it was just me and him," Phillips said. "I was like his runner."
Phillips says Shapiro lured him with the cash he swindled from investors. Shapiro was later sentenced to 20 years in prison for his involvement in a $930 million Ponzi scheme.
Shapiro threw around large sums of money to attract players. Phillips recalled a time they were at the Lucky Strike bowling alley/nightclub on South Beach when Shapiro used cash to help him gain the attention of a cocktail waitress.
"He said, 'Randy, you like that waitress? I'm going to give her 100 dollars each time she walks by,"' Phillips said. "She walked by at least 50 times."
Their relationship was simple. Phillips said he served as the link between Shapiro and the new crop of UM players. Shapiro, in turn, would take care of him financially. There were never bags of cash as portrayed in the movies.
Phillips says it was more like a few hundred dollars here for groceries. Maybe a couple hundred more there for toys for Phillips' son. Sometimes, Shapiro and Phillips would play pool in his home at $500 a game.
"I mean, he couldn't shoot pool," Phillips said. "And if I lost, I didn't have to pay 500 bucks. It was just like whatever I needed, he was there for me."
And other players.
Phillips confirmed Shapiro offered payouts for plays on the field, but only for big games, such as Florida or Florida State. Big hits and interception returns for touchdowns were worth $500. When they played the Gators in 2008, a $5,000 price tag was placed on knocking Tim Tebow out of the game.
A player could easily add a thousand bucks to the totals just by making a pistol-shooting gesture with his hands after making a big play. However, it had nothing to do with a gun. It was referred to as the "Double Ls," a reference to Shapiro's nickname of "Little Luke."
That was a twist on the "Uncle Luke" nickname of entertainer Luther Campbell, who notoriously took care of UM players in the 1980s and '90s.
"We were playing hard for Nevin, for the money," Phillips said.
Phillips said the university was aware of everything. He asked how could they be oblivious when Shapiro was so blatant?
"They couldn't recruit without Nevin," Phillips said. "It got to the point where Nevin was the recruiter. Every top star player came through Nevin's house. That's how they were using me."
Years later, Phillips, who is out of football after a shoulder injury ended his NFL career, says he has no regrets except for the fact it affected the program afterward.
In fact, he wishes he had taken more. Without their relationship, Phillips would have never experienced dinners at Prime 112, $8,000 bar tabs, wine from "the 1940 and '50s," and the days of sitting beside Shapiro on the couch as he made $50,000 bets on the Hurricanes, according to Phillips.
Phillips felt he was the victim of the NCAA trap, a system that prevents players from making money off their athletic ability. He grew up poor. He was a father. He needed assistance. He felt it was impossible to turn down the money.
What made it worse in Phillips' mind was he said university officials introduced him to Shapiro, yet the players and coaches received most of the blame.
"It's like: How did the university protect us from people like this who was donating money, whose name was on the player's lounge, who bought us all these TVs and video games?" Phillips said.
"Of course, I'm going to want to shake his hand and be cool with him. ... It's kind of like they put us in a situation where this guy was our savior."
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