Who was Phillip Adams? Shocked friends of ex-NFL player speak after SC mass shooting

Alaina Getzenberg, Tobie Nell Perkins
·8 min read

Former NFL player Phillip Adams, who had a number of injuries during his journeyman’s career in the league, is at the center of a mass shooting case in South Carolina.

Authorities identified Adams as the suspect in the shooting of six people in York County, S.C., Wednesday afternoon. Five people were killed, a sixth is in critical condition, and Adams later killed himself, authorities said.

Law enforcement officials are still searching for a motive in the case that has shaken this small city near Charlotte.

People who knew Adams described him as quiet, friendly and a bit of a loner, but reacted in disbelief in the aftermath of the mass shooting.

Adams, 32, grew up in Rock Hill, played football at SC State then was with several NFL teams over six seasons from 2010 to 2015.

NFL agent Scott Casterline represented Adams throughout his NFL career and has stayed close with him and his family since.

Adams’ father, Alozno, called Casterline Wednesday morning, something he does every two-to-four months, but it went straight to voicemail and he didn’t find the message until the evening.

“He said, ‘Hey Scott, give me a call. I want to talk you about Phillip.’ He was real congenial. ... That wasn’t unusual,” Casterline told the Observer Thursday.

Casterline found out about what happened when a friend texted him Thursday morning. As of Thursday afternoon, Casterline has not been able to get in touch with Alonzo.

“Phillip was a real lone ranger. He really just liked to be by himself, alone, even when he played ... I loved Phillip like a brother,” Casterline said. “The Phillip Adams that we knew, this was not anywhere near him. I feel really bad for the victims and their families..”

“You can’t change what happened and that’s the sad thing,” he added. “But the Phillip that we knew was a really good person, quiet. He’s a loner, but he was good, he was a good person.”

In this Dec. 26, 2010 file photo, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams (35) is attended to after injuring his left leg during a game.On Thursday, SC authorities identified him as the suspect who shot six people in York County Wednesday, killing five, before later killing himself.
In this Dec. 26, 2010 file photo, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams (35) is attended to after injuring his left leg during a game.On Thursday, SC authorities identified him as the suspect who shot six people in York County Wednesday, killing five, before later killing himself.

Football in Rock Hill

Adams grew up in Rock Hill and then returned after his NFL career to a town dubbed “Football City USA.”

The name was made famous by the Herald’s late high school sports editor Barry Byers, but it stuck: the name has been referenced since at least 2013. In 2016, the New York Times called Rock Hill an “incubator of football talent,” reporting that that “southern football’s rise can be seen in Rock Hill.”

York County Council members have even petitioned to have the moniker displayed on a bridge near downtown, and the county claims the title on its website, referencing a number of professional football players, college football national champions, first-round draft picks and super bowl winners.

In 2004, Adams was part of a Rock Hill Bearcats team that won a Class 4A Division I state championship. Adams also won a high school state championship in basketball. He then played college football at South Carolina State University.

Phillip Adams, center, is surrounded by teammates Devin Ware, left, Ladarious Moore, right, and Tori Gurley, behind, as they celebrate winning the Big 16 state championship against Stratford in 2004.
Phillip Adams, center, is surrounded by teammates Devin Ware, left, Ladarious Moore, right, and Tori Gurley, behind, as they celebrate winning the Big 16 state championship against Stratford in 2004.

Casterline describes him as growing up in a family of wrestlers, with Adams wrestling some as well, as a sport or to train. He never saw Adams be violent in any way.

”We’re pretty competitive in our group,” Casterline said. “We all trained together. I never saw him get mad, I’d be the one that gets mad, not him.”

’Nothing like him’

Former South Carolina football player and Rock Hill native Gerald Dixon Jr. grew up idolizing Adams.

His father, former NFL linebacker Gerald Dixon, would take him to Rock Hill High to be around the players as a ball boy.

“Phillip was one the stars on the team I admired. He paved the way for the guys coming up behind him,” Dixon Jr. said in a social media message to The Observer. “Every time I see him it was always love and he was always smiling. He didn’t have a hate bone in his body.”

Dixon Jr. stressed that mental health is something that needs to be addressed and taken seriously. “I’m sure there was some demons that he was battling (because) this is nothing like him,” Dixon Jr. said.

South Carolina State career

During his time at South Carolina State, Adams played 42 games over four years. As a junior, Adams had a team-high five interceptions. He was a 2009 first-team All-MEAC selection, and had 48 tackles and a team-high 11 passes defensed his senior year. The Bulldogs won back-to-back MEAC championships and Black College Football National Championships in 2008 and 2009.

He also returned punts during his college career.

Adams also played for South Carolina State’s men’s basketball team in his sophomore and junior years.

NFL career

Adams was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL draft.

He played in the league for six seasons as a cornerback, starting 11 games and playing in 78. His last season was 2015.

Adams spent only one season with the 49ers, partly due to suffering a devastating compound fracture in his left ankle. If not for the injury suffered during his rookie season, Casterline believes, Adams probably would have remained with the 49ers.

This is a 2011 photo of Phillip Adams, who was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. He was identified as the suspect who shot six people in York County Wednesday, killing five, before later killing himself, sources told The Herald of Rock Hill.
This is a 2011 photo of Phillip Adams, who was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. He was identified as the suspect who shot six people in York County Wednesday, killing five, before later killing himself, sources told The Herald of Rock Hill.

He also played for the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons. In his career, Adams had five interceptions and 128 tackles. Adams also played on special teams, including as a punt returner.

“He was one of the most determined athletes I’d been around. He wanted to be great and he did all the things necessary to be great, really worked on his game. When he came out of school, he was a little raw, but a real good athlete,” Casterline said.

Adams’ last opportunity to play in the NFL came with the Indianapolis Colts, but by the time Casterline was able to get in touch with him, he missed the flight to Indianapolis. But at that point Adams seemed “checked out” of football, he said.

During the 2012 season with the Raiders, he suffered two concussions over a three-game stretch, which, combined with a groin injury, eventually ended his season. He only missed one game due to his injuries.

Casterline remembers that during his career Adams had one concussion that was “kind of concerning,” but nothing outside of what an ordinary athlete goes through.

“I do think one was kind of severe, and one might be enough. I just don’t know,” Casterline said. “I’ve had two guys who were in the Hall of Fame and played 14 years. They were bangers, and no problems at all. Everybody’s different.”

Making plans

Rock Hill resident C.T. Kirk, a middle school teacher, knew the Adams family, and his wife was close to Phillip’s mother, Phyllis.

Kirk said that Adams had plans in motion to give back to Rock Hill, including starting a business that provides healthy food options to families who can’t afford them.

Casterline said Adams planned to start a juice company prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he didn’t think that had worked out, and that Adams spent some time with the Rock Hill High football team.

A ‘hard transition’

In the fall, Adams had asked for Casterline’s help in finding a job. Casterline said he would be happy to help if Adams came to live near Dallas, Texas, but Adams did not want to leave South Carolina. At times, Adams lived with Casterline and he was well-liked by his family.

Oftentimes, struggles athletes face when their playing careers are over get swept under the rug, but life after a career as a professional athlete can be difficult for many reasons.

“It’s a really hard transition. Part of it is the adulation you get, but mainly the locker room, working as a team, being around the guys everyday in the locker room, and then all sudden you’re not,” Casterline said. “You don’t have a family, a team. You’re not working towards a common goal.”

Prior criminal charges

Adams has had earlier run-ins with authorities.

He was charged with simple assault and battery in 2009, and was acquitted of the charge in a bench trial, according to S.C. court records. Adams was convicted of speeding in 2011.

He was also charged in Mecklenburg County in 2016 with carrying a concealed gun. That charge was dismissed.

And on Tuesday, Adams was convicted of several York County traffic charges, including driving under suspension and failure to maintain proof of insurance, S.C. records show.

Kept to himself

Adams had one son. Casterline described Adams as not having a good relationship with his son’s mother.

He liked to keep to himself, and the last time the pair spoke was in the late fall.

I don’t know what happened ... there’s no excuse for it,” Casterline said. “Something snapped.”

Charlotte Observer reporter Ames Alexander, and (Rock Hill) Herald reporters Alex Zietlow and Cailyn Derickson contributed to this report.