Sam Phillips may be transferring, but the star gymnast wound up in a very comfortable place. The Nebraska product will spend his sixth and final season of NCAA eligibility at one of the most inclusive teams in Division 1 men’s sports.

Following two All-American finishes at the men’s gymnastics championships, Phillips announced he’ll be transferring to Illinois, a Big Ten rival. Due to his season-ending injury in 2022, Phillips can compete at the collegiate level for another year, and jumped at the opportunity.

A team captain at Nebraska, Phillips can fill a leadership void with the Fighting Illini, who are losing two graduating stars, Michael Fletcher and Connor McCool.

“I’m going to lean into change when they need me to bring my perspective and my context, and I am also going to lean out and go with the flow at times,” Phillips told Inside Gymnastics. “It is going to be a breath of fresh air.”

Phillips’ announcement was big news in the gymnastics world, with Olympic hopeful Heath Thorpe and thousands of others reacting to the news on social media. Another proud Illini, Evan Manivong, was ecstatic.

“YOOOOOOOOOOO,” he commented, before adding a “CMONNN NOW.”

As the only out gay male athlete at Nebraska, Phillips formed a chapter of Athlete Ally at the university. The Southern California native feels a calling towards advocacy.

At the NCAA Championships, he punctuated his All-American efforts with a Pride flag pinned to his jacket.

“I decided to wear the Pride flag during the duration of NCAA weekend to represent the community and bring Pride into the NCAA environment,” Phillips told Queerty in a direct message. “During the banquet I had the pin on my suit and during the meet I had it on my warm up jacket. It was a way to add a touch of representation and visualization to the Pride community within the NCAA.”

Though Phillips is the only out gymnast at Illinois, he should feel right at home. McCool and Manivong are two steadfast allies, taking various stances in recent years for LGBTQ+ inclusion.

McCool, a three-time Floor All-American, has been vocal about protesting anti-trans legislation. Prior to the 2022 NCAA Championships, he was one of multiple gymnasts who declared they were “#FlippingExhausted” over trans sports bans (the event was held in Texas, a ground zero for anti-trans legislation).

“I am #flippingexhausted that as we are here today, lawmakers across the country and in the state of Oklahoma are pushing legislation targeting transgender youth and their families,” he posted on Instagram.

“NOBODY should be discriminated against for who they are. With data showing that over 80% of trans people have contemplated suicide, the only thing they need is our love and support. Today I’m standing in support of trans youth and I encourage everyone to join in too!,” he added.

With 22 all-time floor titles, McCool is one of the best gymnasts in Fighting Illini history, and Manivong is accomplished as well. The Kansas City native is a four-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and a two-time regular season All-American.

Memorably, when Manivong nailed a successful vault landing in March 2021, he brought out his vaccination card to celebrate.

It just takes a quick peek at Manivong’s social media pages to see his support for the queer community. His background photo on X shows him holding a Pride flag.

The picture was taken at this year’s Pride Night, where the Fighting Illini cruised to their third straight win on the festive evening.

Sadly, Manivong tore his achilles late last season, ending his career with a boot on his leg. But he still seems to be in good spirits.

Manivong posts regular updates to his nearly 87,000 followers on Instagram.

Phillips knows what it’s like to be sidelined during the biggest moments of the season. He suffered a season-ending injury during the 2022-23 campaign.

Looking back, he says the trying experience helped him grow as a teammate and person.

“I learned I actually like the coaching and supporting side of gymnastics,” he told Queerty. “If I’m being brutally honest, just being inconsistent with competing all around and competing in general due to injuries, I’ve lost a bit of my competitive edge. But I think I’ve gained leadership.”

A full-fledged NIL superstar, Phillips’ latest deal is testicular cancer awareness. He’s using the Movember campaign to spread awareness about the disease, which most affects men ages 18 to 33.

His video shows why he’s such a commercial success. “In men’s gymnastics we don’t use balls. Even our foam blocks are square,” he says. “The only balls we have are [points to crotch] the ones you and I have. So if you want to stay healthy as a college athlete you should make sure to check your balls.”

Phillips also enjoys NIL deals with Adobe, Adidas, Steve Madden and PSD Underwear.

With Olympic trials next month, Phillips is aiming to represent Team USA in Paris. McCool will already be there: he’s working with NBC Sports as a Statistician covering men’s and women’s gymnastics.

What a cool way to pass the torch!

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