His physical condition has done a 180 since, so much that he won the starting job four weeks ago.
Phillips, having grown up in Tennessee, is a huge Peyton Manning fan. And Friday, Phillips was given the Lucas Oil Stadium locker that belonged to the former Volunteers star when he excelled for the Colts.
"He was like a king bee sitting in there," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "It was fun seeing that, and our kids are rolling with it."
It's easy to root for Phillips, a big (6-foot-3, 214 pounds), mobile talent whose bad knees prevented him from seeing the field in 2010 and 2011.
Danny O'Brien beat him out in fall camp, and then Joel Stave replaced a turnover-prone O'Brien during the Badgers' third game. When Stave broke his collarbone in the Oct. 27 loss to Michigan State, Bielema turned to Phillips.
"The number one thing you can tell about Curt is that he has a great deal of respect from everybody in our locker room, players and coaches, because of his perseverance and the way he competes," Bielema said. "Nobody loves the game more and it really shows in his play."
Phillips didn't play in Wisconsin's 30-27 loss at Nebraska on Sept. 29, but Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini said he did not expect the Badgers' offense to look all that different.
"They're a better football team," Pelini said. "And I believe we are, too."
Given that Phillips did not make the trip last season, Bielema said he would benefit from Friday's walk-through.
Bielema said that Jim Sorgi, a former Badgers quarterback who backed up Manning, warned that in one area of the end zone, "it looks like 50 people are playing defense against you" because of fans in a suite.
Phillips will keep that in mind. If he can peel himself away from Manning's locker.