Friday, February 03, 2017

State of the Hogs: Father recounts Trey Flowers' rise from lightly-recruited to Super Bowl starter

New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers (98) tackles San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

By Clay Henry

February 3, 2017

FAYETTEVILLE — What number Trey Flowers wears may not be a big deal anymore. So it probably wouldn't be a motivational tool ahead of the Super Bowl for the New England brain trust to change his No. 98.

At this point, Flowers probably plays as hard as possible every play. That's his reputation. It was in a sterling four-year career at Arkansas. It still is with the Patriots as a second-year defensive end, the starter on the right side for the Patriots on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

But it's worth noting that there was a time when Flowers did let a number change ignite a raging fire on the field. Robert Flowers, his father, recalls his son's ninth-grade season when the high school coach in Huntsville, Ala., gave No. 75 to a promising senior transfer.

“We lived in a military district, lots of kids coming and going,” Robert Flowers said. “Trey was starting at offensive tackle as a ninth grader for the varsity. He'd always worn 75. But this big kid moved in and asked for it. The coach said OK.”

That was bad news for the move-in when the team scrimmaged. He lined up opposite Flowers.

“He thought he was going to take Trey's position at defensive end, too,” Robert Flowers said. “Trey was playing offense, assigned to block him. That was a mistake for that boy. Trey whipped him up and down the field. Trey balled.

“That kid kept 75 for the year, but the coach gave it back to Trey the next year. They eventually changed him to 88 because he was playing some tight end and he had to have a receiver's number to go out for passes.

“I'm telling you, Trey beat the crap out of that boy. I don't think he ever cusses on the field, but he's pretty mean. Off the field, he's as nice as they come. But he gets mean out there playing."

That's no joke. Flowers played in 49 games at Arkansas, starting 39 times. He was all-SEC as a senior in 2014 when he helped Arkansas record back-to-back shutouts against ranked foes Ole Miss and LSU.

Flowers finished his UA career with 190 tackles, 18 sacks, an interception, 13 passes breakups and four forced fumbles. He completed his career as the active SEC leader and tied for second nationally in tackles for loss (47.5).

Trey Flowers celebrates a fumble recovery in his final home game vs. Ole Miss on Nov. 22, 2014. (Photo by J.T. Wampler)

The productivity was there from the start as a true freshman in 2011. He was part of a big defensive end class that included the more heralded Lonnie Gosha. Flowers was the last player added in that class, getting his only SEC offer from Bobby Petrino on the weekend before signing day.

Flowers probably was headed to Georgia Tech until UA defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell talked him into visiting with a phone call late in January. The other schools interested were Alabama-Birmingham and South Alabama.

“Bobby Petrino signed four defensive ends in that class,” Robert Flowers said. “He told them all, 'Come to school expecting to play and I'll pick one of you.' Trey was determined to be that one.”

Actually, Gosha played, too, and he was getting more snaps ahead of Flowers early in their freshman season. When starters Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright suffered injuries, the freshmen playing time increased. Flowers played some in a reserve role against Texas A&M and Auburn before coaches figured things out.

“They played others for most of the Auburn game, and just at the end of the game, with the score out of hand, Coach Caldwell put Trey in for the last two minutes,” Robert Flowers said. “Trey got three plays. He made tackles on first and second down and they took him out on third down. A little later they put him back in and he almost got a sack, forcing an incomplete pass.

“So that's three snaps and he got two tackles and a QB hurry. After the game, Coach Caldwell came to him at his locker. He said, 'I'm sorry. I was wrong. You are the one who needs to play. You'll play from now on.' He started the next three games.”

Flowers finished the season with 28 tackles, tied with Bequette, a senior, and three ahead of Wright, a junior. He was named to the SEC all-freshman team.

The early playing time effected Trey's academic plans. He came to Arkansas with plans of an engineering degree. The path for that degree generally takes five years.

“He could have done it if he'd had a redshirt year," Robert Flowers said. “Trey had the academic background. He was straight As in high school, really all the way back to grade school.

“But when things started out so well as a freshman and he was playing, we had to rethink the engineering part. It was not going to be easy. There were some classes that had tests on Friday for the start of the engineering program. If you missed, you got an F. He was missing on travel weeks.

“The plan when he went to school was to get a significant degree. He had an older brother go to Cincinnati for basketball and they put athletes in a cookie-cutter program, criminal justice; not significant. Trey was not going for that, coming out of high school with no Bs on his card.

“But engineering and football are tough together. With football taking off for him, I told him maybe a switch to economics would work out better.”

Flowers finished the economics degree in three-and-a-half years, making the SEC honor roll throughout.

Nothing Trey does surprises his father. He's always had high expectations for his son, one of 10 children.

“The NFL? It's nice, but I always thought that's where he'd be,” Robert Flowers said. “He said that's what he was going to be when he played peewee ball. He was going to do this and I'm not surprised at all. It's what I thought he could do.”

There were older brothers with college scholarships, in football and basketball.

“Jamal was the offensive guard at Middle Tennessee, Rod the basketball player for Bobby Huggins at Cincinnati,” Robert Flowers said. “Jamal was four or five years ahead of Trey. Rod asked Jamal, 'You think you can block baby Trey?' The answer, 'No, but I betcha I can hold him.' Trey was always as strong as a bull. The older boys knew that.”

If there was ever any doubt that Trey could make it in football, it came in the eighth grade.

“Trey hurt his knee pretty bad, the same injury they eventually fixed at Arkansas,” Robert Flowers said. “I remember going to the knee doctor. He told Trey, 'You will never play football again. Your career is over.' Then, he left the room for a few minutes. Trey looked over at me and said, 'I'll play football.' He missed two games.”

It wasn't just enough to play. Winning was always the goal. It was tough during his first three years at Arkansas. After an 11-win freshman campaign he had to endure the John L. Smith season, then a tough time in Bret Bielema's first season. Things took off at the end of Trey's senior season.

“Man, Trey hated losing, always did,” Robert Flowers said. “I remember the first year he played peewee. He was coached by my college roommate. They only lost two games and Trey cried both times. He didn't understand losing. Me and momma talked to him about that.

“Really though, he didn't lose much as a young one. I think his teams lost only one game combined the next five years.”

Trey Flowers talks to the media for Super Bowl 51 media day Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Obviously, the Patriots aren't losing much. It's been a fun ride this season to another Super Bowl.

Robert Flowers said he has made it to seven games and the entire family is headed to Houston for the Super Bowl.

“I think Trey got around 15 tickets,” he said. “All 10 kids are going. Then, it's me and momma, and his daughter.”

It was about like that for Arkansas games when Robert used an oversized van for the trip from Alabama to the Ozarks. It was equipped with six captain's chairs, a requirement for some big people.

“Me and momma fly now,” he said. “The rest are driving.”

Flowers leads the Patriots with seven sacks. He's been a force over the second half of the season, drawing praise from coaches and teammates. Former Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower, a defensive leader for the Patriots, gave Flowers the nickname “Technique.”

“Trey plays it perfect,” Robert Flowers said. “You show him, he'll get it. He'll master it. He did.

“I know when they drafted him, (Patriots coach) Bill Belichick told him, forget everything you know, it's all going to be new. Trey did a pretty good job of learning it. He's learned end and tackle.”

Flowers has been a destructive pass rusher at both spots this season. The Falcons might have to do what older brother Jamal thought would be required.

They may have to resort to holding.

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