Tuesday, March 19, 2019

To understand Trey Flowers' path to Detroit Lions, start with his heart

Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press

Published 6:00 a.m. ET March 17, 2019 | Updated 9:28 a.m. ET March 17, 2019

Trey Flowers was in the eighth grade when a doctor told him he’d never play football again.
Flowers was a do-everything star in junior high at the time, so much bigger and stronger than everyone else that as a youth he had to borrow a helmet from nearby Alabama A&M because it was the only one big enough to fit his head. 
He played defensive line and as a fullback, and when one opponent was having an especially tough time bringing him down, players from the team started diving at his legs.
Flowers injured his knee on one such tackle, and when his father took him to the doctor the next day, the two were left alone in a room to digest the bad news.
“When the doctor walked out of the room I asked Trey, I said, ‘Well, what do you think?’ ” Robert Flowers, Trey’s father, recalled in a phone interview with the Free Press on Friday. “He said, ‘I’m gonna play football.’ So it turned out, he missed two games his eighth grade year and played the last two games.”

Jan 20, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers (98) celebrates after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports (Photo: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)

Robert doesn’t recall the exact nature of the injury, only that doctors said they didn’t want to do surgery at the time because a procedure might impact Trey’s growth plates.
The next year, Flowers was starting as a freshman on his high school varsity team, and a few years later, Robert and Trey ran into the same doctor while out about town.
“I told him, I said, ‘Well, this guy, you told him he’ll never play football again,’ and he had won all-state then,” Robert Flowers said. “And the doctor said, ‘Did I do an MRI?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Did I do an X-ray?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘But you can’t measure his heart.’ ”
For Flowers, a player who has gone from lightly recruited prep star to fourth-round NFL draft pick and now one of the best defensive ends in football and the new anchor of the Detroit Lions’ high-priced defensive line, heart is the only appropriate way to explain his rise.
Yes, Flowers was blessed with ungodly athletic ability. His father played football at Alabama A&M, one of his six brothers, Rod, played basketball at Cincinnati under Bob Huggins and later had an NFL tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and another brother, Jamal, played football at Middle Tennessee State.
But Trey has always had a focus and drive that others have lacked.
“He is a super, super human being, and what you see is what you get,” said Jeff Cooper, Flowers’ prep basketball coach at Columbia (Ala.) High. “I mean, when he was in high school, a lot of other kids were doing what kids do for the most part. He was doing homework, studying and working out. Like every day.
“With basketball, it was something he did basically to stay in shape and to help our program out. He would show up when football was over, not in any kind of basketball shape, and step on the court and be a difference maker. He was one of the key components that helped us get to the final four his junior year. He was a post player. He could have been a college basketball player if he had wanted to and he had put that kind of time in. But he had this vision and this goal to be where he is, and people back then probably would have thought, ‘OK, there’s no way this guy’s ever going to make it to the NFL,’ because the football program at Columbia, in my eight years as the basketball coach, we had 10 head coaches. And he is the only positive thing that really came out of that.”

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Constructing a star

Robert Flowers said Trey told him as a 7-year-old that he wanted to be a professional football player.
It was around the same time that Trey, who started doing 100 push-ups a day as a 5-year-old, began working for his father’s business, Flowers Construction Company.
Initially, Trey was just an extra hand who’d help keep nails straight while Robert was doing roofing work or fetch the tools his dad needed to finish a job.
By the time he was 9, Flowers was doing the same work as men three times his age.
“(He) never complained. Never,” Robert Flowers said. “When he was 11 years old, he was worth $25 an hour. A man, he was worth that kind of pay. That’s what kind of work he was doing. But I’d pay him $7 or something and he never complained.”
Trey worked long hours in the summer, sometimes going from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m., and while Robert’s other children helped out on job sites, too, there was something different about Trey.
“He would gravitate towards learning and the rest of the them would do what I say, but he would do what needs to be done,” Robert said. “If we’re putting roofing on, if he saw me cut around a pipe, to keep it from leaking — you know how you cut around a pipe, a stick pipe — he’d cut around a pipe and do that, too. But the other kids, they would run up to the pipe and they’d say, ‘Dad, you come do it.’ ”
Flowers stood apart for his work ethic in high school, too, and his appetite to learn has translated into a unique coachability as a pro.
Cooper said Flowers often came to the weight room or football practice field on his own and went through workouts by himself or with a trainer. As a junior and senior, he was one of only two players who’d show up for regular 6 a.m. before-school workouts with his head coach, Corey Collier. The other player, Collier said, was his own son.
“He was no nonsense,” Cooper said. “He wasn’t going to be one of the kids that was hanging out in the streets at 2 or 3 in the morning or staying up all night playing video games. He was going to be the one that got up early in the morning and was running and working out, doing that kind of stuff.”

'His work ethic is amazing'

A two-time all-state selection in high school, Flowers was shunned by in-state schools like Alabama and Auburn in the recruiting process because of his size. He initially committed to Georgia Tech over offers from UAB, South Alabama and Arkansas State, but changed allegiances to Arkansas once his only offer from an SEC school came in.
The last member of Arkansas’ recruiting class to receive an offer, Flowers was one of the first to see the field. He played in all 13 games as a true freshman, started the next three years at defensive end — he underwent minor surgery on the knee he injured back in junior high as a junior — and went on to become a fourth-round pick of the New England Patriots in 2015.
In New England, Flowers missed most of his rookie season with a shoulder injury and reportedly had a second shoulder surgery this offseason, but was a key member of the last three AFC championship teams. He racked up 21 sacks and won two Super Bowls while playing all over the field, and earned the nickname “Technique” because, his father said, “once the position coach (would) teach him the technique, that’s what he does.”
“I think Trey Flowers is unbelievable,” Lions coach Matt Patricia, the Patriots’ defensive coordinator during Flowers’ first three seasons, said at the Super Bowl last year. “His work ethic is amazing and the way that he approaches each week and the opponent for that week, we ask him to do quite a lot and really have to handle a lot of responsibility. His approach that he attacks everything, it’s pretty unbelievable.”
The Lions were one of more than a half-dozen teams to show interest in Flowers as a free agent and ultimately lured him to town with a five-year, $90 million contract — the biggest deal they’ve ever given anyone in free agency — that folks back home in Huntsville say couldn’t have gone to a more deserving person.

Robert and Jaqueline Flowers look on as their son, Trey Flowers, the newly signed defensive end for the Detroit Lions, speaks to the media Thursday, March 14, 2019 at the practice facility in Allen Park. (Photo: Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press)

Flowers, who'll start this fall at right defensive end, brought his parents to his introductory news conference Thursday, and when asked what he’ll do with his newfound wealth said he doesn’t have any plans except maybe "take care of my folks, my mom, dad, whatever, and just put it away and keep playing football.”
To those who know Flowers well, that sounds about right.
He's always been someone who's worked hard and been intrinsically motivated. Two weeks ago, Flowers was inducted into the inaugural class of his high school’s athletics Hall of Fame. He wore his Super Bowl ring and took pictures with everyone who asked, but otherwise was the same humble, big-hearted person Cooper said everyone came to know before he hit it big.
“He was a five-star kid in the making, but nobody knew it,” Cooper said. “And everything that he’s gotten, he’s worked for it and he deserves every bit of it. He’s a first-class guy and y’all are getting somebody that’s not going to take days off and they’re going to have a motor and he’s always going to play hard.”
Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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