Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford says he's inspired by new coordinator Mike Yurcich


18 hrs ago (March 29, 2021)

Penn State senior quarterback Sean Clifford on new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich: "He’s not a thermometer; he’s a thermostat. He walks in and changes the temperature of the room."

The Associated Press

New Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich is fiery, energetic and passionate, according to quarterback Sean Clifford, just like Clifford.

“We’ll butt heads because we’re so similar,” Clifford said Monday. “You see it in the meetings. You can ask any of the other quarterbacks. I’ll be talking because I want to express my point and then he’ll want to talk, too.

“It’s a really good relationship so far.”

Yurcich is Clifford’s fourth offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in his five seasons, three as the starter, with the Nittany Lions. Clifford has adjusted to each change, from Joe Moorhead to Ricky Rahne to Kirk Ciarrocca.

Clifford’s now a senior, though, and motivated to improve on his performance last season when Penn State finished 4-5. He completed 60.6% of his passes for 1,883 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he threw nine interceptions and lost two fumbles, which were returned for scores.

“I had a lot of love for Coach Ciarrocca,” he said, “and now that he’s gone, I’m developing a new relationship with Coach Yurcich. I’m not sad about it. I’m not mad about it. It’s just the way it goes.

“I’m enjoying every minute being coached by him. He’s a great coach. He’s very inspiring and he makes me want to come to work every day.”

Clifford said he believes that learning Yurcich’s offense will be easier than learning Ciarrocca’s offense because the Lions didn’t have spring practice last season and later had to work out in separate pods because of the pandemic.

He called 2020 a “weird year in general” and said he never threw with wide receiver Parker Washington, a true freshman last year, until two weeks before the Oct. 24 opener at Indiana.

“Spring ball is where you really develop your team,” Clifford said. “You work through the kinks. You’re going to mess up. It’s nice to be able to mess up in a practice and break down the film (and correct mistakes).

“Last year, that was after the Indiana game and after the Ohio State game. We were going over those new things that came up and it hurt us, as it did a lot of teams. Spring ball is critical."

He was benched in the middle of a 30-23 loss at Nebraska in favor of backup Will Levis, who since has transferred to Kentucky, and didn’t start the following week against Iowa. He had 11 TD passes and eight interceptions in the first five games, all losses, and five touchdown passes and one interception in the last four games, all wins.

“It was definitely a challenge to be benched on national television and for everybody to see it,” Clifford said. “It takes a lot out of you because you’re that guy. You want to lead your team. You want to be there for everybody.

“The one week that you don’t have that opportunity, it kind of hurts. I would be lying if I said it didn’t. But at the same time, I knew that I had to be there for my teammates and for Will, especially. I honestly looked at it as an opportunity to grow and learn.”

Penn State coach James Franklin fired Ciarrocca after one season and hired Yurcich hoping to improve the offense in general and Clifford in particular. Yurcich has enjoyed success at coaching stops that include Shippensburg, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Texas.

Clifford declined to get into the specifics of Yurcich’s offense because the Lions aren’t halfway through spring practice.

“Everything is happening so fast and you’re trying to get every install in,” he said. “It’s been exciting. It’s a combination of explosiveness and grinding it out. It’s everything you want.”

Clifford said he liked playing for Moorhead, Rahne and Ciarrocca. So far, Yurcich is everything he wants in a coach.

“He makes you just want to be there,” Clifford said. “It’s really every single day, the way he talks and the way he commands a room. He’s not a thermometer; he’s a thermostat. He walks in and changes the temperature of the room.

“When we’re going over a concept, we need to know every little detail of it. I think that’s what every great OC needs to do.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Mike Yurcich’s energy leads to early positive reviews for revamped Penn State offense


Daniel Gallen,

Mar 23, 2021

STATE COLLEGE — Jake Pinegar typically isn’t intimately involved with either side of the ball during Penn State practices in his role as kicker, but the junior has certainly taken note of new Lions offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich as he installs his system during spring practice.

It’s the second year in a row the Lions are learning a new offense with their third offensive coordinator in three years. A benefit for Penn State in Year 1 under Yurcich, though, is the in-person practices that were absent a year ago for Kirk Ciarrocca’s lone season in State College as James Franklin’s offensive coordinator.

And that’s where Yurcich has made an early impression on his players, whether they’re technically part of his unit or not.

“He brings a lot of fire, a lot of energy, a lot of energy, a lot of fire, and from what I can see, the offense looks great,” Pinegar said over Zoom on Monday. “I’ve talked to [quarterback] Sean [Clifford] and all these other guys about the offense, and they’ve said they love it, and they’re ready to get after it. I think the biggest thing, too, is everybody has just been working incredibly hard this offense.

“I think there’s a lot of juice, a lot of competitiveness and a lot of drive that the offense is looking for.”

Guard/center Mike Miranda echoed Pinegar when it comes to Yurcich’s energy. Miranda said Yurcich showcased it during winter workouts over the past few months, and it’s carried over into the first week of on-field practices.

And Yurcich showcases it in different ways. He doesn’t just raise his voice or run around the field with his different position groups. It’s a little bit of everything.

“He’s a really verbal guy,” Miranda said over Zoom on Monday. “He does run around at practice a lot, but whenever we’re at team periods, we’re doing walkthroughs, you always know where he is on the field. You can always hear his voice, you always know what he’s saying, whether it’s to the offense or whether it’s to the quarterbacks or another position group. His presence is just felt as a coordinator while we’re on the field practicing, working.”

Of course, Yurcich’s personality is moot if the Penn State offense doesn’t see results. That’s why Franklin, rather surprisingly, moved on from Ciarrocca in favor of Yurcich.

Last season, Yurcich was at Texas and helped coach quarterback Sam Ehlinger to a 26-touchdown, five-interception season where Ehlinger averaged 8.0 yards per attempt and posted two five-touchdown games, plus another four-score outing.

In 2019, Yurcich was the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Ohio State. That year, quarterback Justin Fields, projected to be a top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, threw 41 touchdowns to just three interceptions. And prior to that, Yurcich spent six years under Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State in the pass-happy Big 12.

Everywhere Yurcich has been, big numbers have followed, which could bode well for Clifford, a stable of interesting running backs and a group of young playmakers at wide receivers. And those numbers typically come quickly, which has stood out to the players early.

“The thing I like most about the offense is it’s uptempo,” tight end Brenton Strange said Monday over Zoom. “I don’t think a lot of defenses just want to run the whole entire game, and that’s what we do. We’re uptempo, fast, get the defense on its heels and create explosive plays. That’s what I like the most about it.”

Miranda thinks when the season comes around, Penn State can be in better shape than its opponents and wear them down during the final stages of a game.

But a key part of that stems from the opportunity right now to prepare for the season. A year ago at this time, the Lions were learning an offense over Zoom while attempting to adjust to a world upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, though, Zoom sessions are “just kind of a normal thing,” Pinegar said, and the Lions are getting on-field instruction in March as opposed to later in the summer.

Plus, the loss of meeting time a year ago made players more appreciative for their chance to get together in the same room and go over the new offense this spring.

“Every meeting is an opportunity for us to learn because we can see how much different it can be, how much better it can make us,” Miranda said.

Yurcich’s addition to the Penn State staff created some buzz and optimism around a unit that struggled with injuries and inconsistency during a 4-5 season in 2020. The Lions are trying to put that performance behind them, but there are still some questions that need to be answered, mainly surrounding Clifford, an offensive line looking to replace two starters and a running back room that is deep but has dealt with injuries.

But there’s still plenty of time between now and when Penn State is scheduled to kick off the season at Wisconsin on Sept. 4 for those questions to get answered. From his view, though, Pinegar has been impressed with the initial returns with Yurcich as the offensive coordinator, which could make for some busier Saturday afternoons for the kicker.

“They’re working really hard,” Pinegar said. “As a spectator, obviously, it’s not my area of expertise, but from what I see, it looks like they’re headed in a really good direction.”

Monday, March 22, 2021

Grading the Deal: Bengals Sign Veteran Offensive Tackle Riley Reiff



UPDATED: MAR 20, 2021

ORIGINAL: MAR 20, 2021

CINCINNATI — Protecting Joe Burrow is the number one priority for the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason. They took the first step in achieving that goal on Friday by signing offensive tackle Riley Reiff. Cincinnati wined and dined the mauler, who many pegged as the best offensive lineman remaining on the market. 

Reiff appears ready to help this franchise anyway he can, citing Burrow as a big reason why he chose the Bengals. 

"I walked away from eating that steak and was like I wanna play and block for this guy," Reiff said during his introductory press conference. "Just the way he conducts himself. Carries himself. Seems like a down-to-Earth Cincinnati-type guy. We just sat there crapped around a little bit. But really impressed with him."

The former-Vikings stalwart at left tackle gives fans hope that outside protection issues are in the rear-view mirror after dragging the team down for so long.

Grade: A

Positional Impact: Reiff is penciled in as the starting right tackle. Bobby Hart has held that job for three seasons, but was released after the Bengals closed the deal with Reiff. The Iowa-product is a massive positional upgrade. Reiff is very durable, having played 800-plus snaps in four of the past five seasons. The 32-year-old has earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 69 or better in all but one of his nine seasons. Hart’s career-best is 66.3 overall, which he achieved last season.

Reiff allowed 21 pressures and one sack in 2020, while Hart gave up 44 pressures and four sacks.

The Bengals had to establish a baseline of competence at both tackle spots, and signing Reiff achieved that. According to Sports Info Solutions, he earned the 17th-most total points among offensive linemen (min. 950 snaps). 

Reiff's versatility and willingness to move to guard is another benefit. 

"I told them I would play wherever. I am open to anything," Reiff said. "I am just here to protect Joe and win a lot of football games. I played guard in college. Wherever they ask me to play I will step in and play."

Stat To Know: Reiff earned 20 pass-blocking points in 2020, 13th-most among all offensive linemen (min. 520 snaps).

Value: This is my highest grade of free agency so far because Reiff not only fills a need but his contract leaves flexibility for Cincinnati. Reiff reportedly inked a one-year deal worth $7.5M, with $5.5M guaranteed. Hart was paid an average of $6.85 million the past two seasons with Cincinnati. By cutting Hart, the Bengals freed up $5.8 million in cap space, which the team immediately used on Reiff.

That is a sound way to stay cap compliant while upgrading the talent on the team. Reiff gets the chance to continue his solid play and cash in when the market rebounds next offseason. The Bengals had to take advantage of this unusual financial climate, and signing Reiff got the ball rolling. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Report: Chiefs re-sign linebacker Ben Niemann to 1-year deal


The 2018 undrafted free agent is back on the Chiefs’ 90-man roster.

By Pete Sweeney  Mar 17, 2021, 3:57pm CDT 

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports


The Kansas City Chiefs have re-signed linebacker Ben Niemann to a one-year contract, as confirmed by Nate Taylor of The AthleticNiemann had been a restricted free agent.

Niemann, 25, entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent for the Chiefs in 2018, the final year former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton spent with the club. Niemann made the team under Steve Spagnuolo in 2019 and in 2020 — and his role has grown in each season. Niemann saw 5% of defensive snaps in 2018, 36% in 2019 and 43% in 2020.

He is also a key player for special teams coordinator Dave Toub.

Niemann registered 44 tackles (29 solo), three tackles for loss, 1.0 sack and three quarterback hits in 2020. He also forced a fumble and recovered two.

He played his collegiate ball at Iowa, where his father, Jay Niemann, serves as assistant defensive line coach and defensive recruiting coordinator.

Giants re-sign long snapper Casey Kreiter


Dan Benton 

The New York Giants made several important announcements on Wednesday, including a contract restructure for offensive tackle Nate Solder which will save the team $6 million in salary cap space.

Additionally, the Giants also announced that long snapper Casey Kreiter had been re-signed.

Kreiter, who originally signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Iowa following the 2014 NFL Draft, spent the first two seasons of his career in Texas. After that, he joined the Denver Broncos from 2016-2019, earning Pro Bowl honors in 2018.

The Giants signed Kreiter last April and he went on to replace long-time long snapper Zak DeOssie, who opted to retire.

Kreiter appeared in 16 games for the Giants last year despite a brief stay on the reserve/COVID-19 list, recording one tackle and a 66.0 Pro Football Focus grade.

Along with Kreiter, the Giants also signed long snapper Carson Tinker to a substantial reserve/futures deal earlier this year.

Finally, the Giants also officially announced the re-signing of defensive tackle Austin Johnson and wide receiver C.J. Board.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Nate Ebner eyes return to Olympics on United States National Rugby Team


Mar 15, 2021 at 02:46 PM

Michael Eisen Senior Writer/Editor

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Nate Ebner has played in and won three Super Bowls, but the sports spectacle that most captivated him was disconnected from football and took place in another hemisphere.


As a member of the United States National Rugby Team, the Giants' veteran safety participated in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games Rio 2016.


"You're on a different continent in a country where they don't even really speak your language," Ebner said last week. "We're in a two-hour opening ceremony where all these countries come through – obviously, the United States is one of the last ones as a 'U.' When the United States came out, the roar that I heard in that stadium gave me chills, like nothing I've heard before. When you're in a different hemisphere of the world and they're cheering for you like that, it shows you what you represent and it's a lot bigger than you. To be a part of Team USA is extremely special and being from this country and what it means to be an American, and those things really resonated with me in the opening ceremony."


Ebner hopes to participate in another opening ceremony at the Olympics this year. Beginning today, he will join approximately 30 players trying out for the 12 spots on the U.S. team coached by Mike Friday that will compete in the XXXII Olympiad, which is scheduled to begin July 23 in Tokyo. The Games were postponed for a year because of the pandemic.


"We are very excited to welcome Nate back into the pack," Friday said. "He is not only a talented athlete, rugby player and Olympian, he is a durable individual who knows how to grind and is selfless for the cause.


"Nate is an authentic, good man who carries himself with humility, has a burning desire in his eyes to achieve and a passion to embed rugby and its values in the American sporting landscape. He is a Dawg, a Pioneer and will be up for the challenge as we look ahead to Tokyo."


The formal nickname for all USA Rugby National Teams is Eagles, but Dawg and Pioneer each has a special meaning to the USA Men's Sevens. Dawg stems from a poem that signifies the unique differences of each individual where all work together as a pack to achieve a common goal.


Pioneer, stemming from a 2018 documentary series, illustrates the team's collective mission to cement the game of rugby in America and leave a legacy for future generations.


The Giants fully support Ebner, who played in all 16 games for the team in 2020, his first season with the team.


The Olympic rugby competition is scheduled for July 26-28. Training camp will begin around that time, so Ebner could theoretically miss just the first week or so – as he did five years ago, when he was with New England. Giants coach Joe Judge was then the Patriots' special teams coordinator.


"We are proud to support Nate in his effort to earn a place on the United States National Rugby team," Judge said. "This is the second time I have been with Nate while he tries to make the team to represent our country in the Olympics. We know that rugby has been an important part of Nate's life since he was a young man, and Dave (Gettleman) and I both encouraged him to pursue this opportunity. Nate's rugby training will keep him in great shape this offseason, and we will stay in touch with him as he goes through the process."

While he would revel in the thrill of participating in another Olympics, Ebner is determined to enjoy more success than he did in his first experience. In 2016, the USA lost to eventual gold medalist Fiji, 24-19, in the Rugby Sevens Competition, denying the team an opportunity to join the field of eight (from an original group of 12) in the knockout round. It was a mark they missed by just one point.


"Not getting a medal in that last Olympics is something that really bothers me," Ebner said. "When I reflect on what's important in my life, if I'm being honest, that was high priority. People say, 'You were the guy who won a gold medal in the Olympics,' and I'm like, 'No, we didn't win a medal.' Not winning a medal, especially when I thought that we had the team to do it, and as I look at the growth in the last five years, we definitely have an even better chance this time around. It's something I would really like to be a part of."


Ebner is 32, but it's not just his age that separates him from many of his fellow rugby players. He has played in 143 NFL games, including 16 in the postseason. A special teams standout since entering the NFL in 2012, Ebner played on the Patriots teams that defeated Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX, Atlanta in Super Bowl LI and the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. He was on injured reserve when New England lost to Philadelphia in Super Bowl LII. Ebner joined the Giants as a free agent last year. He participated in a team-high 328 special teams snaps and tied for second with six special teams tackles.


"I've been playing NFL football for the last (nine) years and that's not easy on your body," Ebner said. "Over 30 in the NFL is an old person. In rugby, there are some older guys, but really it's not about me being 32 in rugby, it's the journey I've had. There are guys who are 24 and they've had all kinds of injuries. Everyone's personal situation is different with their body and their age and the wear they've had to endure, so hopefully I can hold up. That's obviously something I'm going to have to manage."


If anyone knows how to do that properly, it's Ebner. He made his first athletic mark playing rugby in his native Ohio. Ebner was a standout on the junior national team and played in three Junior World Cups. After playing football in the eighth grade, he didn't put pads on again until he made the team as a walk-on at Ohio State in 2009, the first of three seasons with the Buckeyes. "I kind of wanted to play football my senior year in high school," Ebner said. "I chose not to because of the Junior World Cup."


Ebner is one of just seven players in NFL history to participate in the Olympics and also win a pro football championship. He is the only player to accomplish that feat in the same year.


Rugby was an Olympic men's medal sport early in the 20th century. The USA were back-to-back gold medalists in 1920 and 1924, but the sport was dropped by the International Olympic Committee following the 1924 games in Paris and did not return until the games in Rio 92 years later. Ebner was not going to enjoy its return as a spectator.


"For a sport that I grew up playing not being in the Olympics basically ever and then it's all of a sudden in the Olympics the year I'm 27 … the stars really aligned," Ebner said. "I had played that sport my whole life, I was in my physical peak. Rugby is very close to my heart and obviously to represent the United States on the Olympic stage is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When you look at the culmination of all those different things, to me I felt convicted, I felt pulled in that direction as if it was something I really had to do. I felt I would feel an extreme amount of regret had I not gone to try that.


"I want the USA to experience rugby the way I have, and I think winning a medal in the Olympics is a great step toward that, that recognition. When I really assess everything, that's a big motivation to me. Even if I didn't make the team, helping the team get to a place where they need to be going into the Olympics to win a medal, that's a big motivation. There will come a time when physically I'm not capable of doing any of this stuff. When that day comes, I won't do it, but while I can I will."


The Patriots backed Ebner's Olympics trip to Brazil. Before he committed to trying a repeat, he wanted to ensure Judge was similarly supportive.


"Once I settled into where I was mentally, I had that conversation with Joe and he was very receptive and understanding," Ebner said. "Obviously, he understands my background as a rugby player, what I did in 2016 and before that. I will say, it did help that I came back that season after the Olympics and had a stellar year, a really, really good year (a career-high 19 special teams tackles). I was physically fit and I was moving well, and I couldn't attribute that to anything but playing rugby for six months. I think that bodes well when it comes to the argument for letting me go play. I came back in really good shape and played really well. At the end of the day, it was just a conversation we had to have.


"It definitely eases the mind for me to really go out for something when I have the support of the franchise behind me to go ahead and go for a once-in-a-lifetime – luckily for me, a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to represent our country. I've been a part of nine NFL training camps, I'm pretty familiar with it. I think it speaks to the trust they have in me as a player, what I understand about the game and training camp and where I need to be that that trust is there. Just having that support is huge for me when I'm pursuing this that I can come back and know that they're riding with me, if you will."


If he makes the team, Ebner should be able to catch up quickly after he departs the Olympics and reports to the Giants. It's not like he would be going to Japan to visit the Imperial Palace or sample local sashimi. Indeed, he will be engaged in an athletic endeavor that might be more challenging than training camp.


"The physical, cardiovascular demands of this game are through the roof relative to football and it's not even close," Ebner said. "We don't get to stop every six seconds after the play is over with. It's just absurd. (In 2016), physically what it took for really six to eight weeks to get myself where I needed to be was extremely difficult. At least this time around I know what to expect physically because I've been through it. Last time I played, it had been five years competitively (since he had played at a high level). I'm hoping I'm in a better place this time around than I was five years ago, but I'm also five years older."


He has a long road to travel, but Ebner has a vision how he wants his journey to unfold.


"Obviously, you have to assess where you're at," he said, "but you would hope within a week of competition I'm back and I'm in shoulder pads and a helmet and I'm out there trying to get us ready to win some football games."

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Brian Baldinger says Washington must do whatever it can to keep Brandon Scherff


Ethan Cadeaux

Thu, March 4, 2021, 2:59 PM·3 min read


Baldinger says WFT should do whatever it can to keep Scherff originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Besides figuring out the answer at the quarterback position, finding a way to sign right guard Brandon Scherff to a long-term deal should be atop the offseason priority list for the Washington Football Team.

Scherff, 28, is set to hit free agency for the first time in his career after turning in an All-Pro season in 2020. Washington has the cap space to keep the former first-round pick, No. 5 overall in 2015, long-term, but Ron Rivera and his staff must determine how much they are willing to pay him on an annual basis.

Speaking on 106.7 The Fan's B-Mitch and Finlay show on Thursday, current NFL Network analyst and former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger was asked about Washington's upcoming decision on Scherff as time runs out before he can hot the open market.

Baldinger said that if he were Washington, he would do "whatever I could" to keep the guard in the nation's capital long-term.

"I want him on my team. I want Scherff playing right guard for me," Baldinger said.

The former offensive lineman immediately addressed Scherff's injury history, which is the main talking point for those who think giving the guard top dollar might not be worth it. In 2020, Scherff missed three games but had been sidelined for 13 contests over the two seasons prior, ending each of the 2018 and 2019 campaigns on Injured Reserve.

However, Baldinger thinks that Scherff's superb play far outweighs any injury concerns when considering signing the 28-year-old to a long-term deal.

"I know he's had some injuries prior to last year. I've got to live with that fact that he's got that history. I need him in the huddle," Baldinger said. "You got to have at least one dog up front. I think he's that guy. Just the way that he plays."

"He had a fantastic season last year," Baldinger added. "I think they ran the ball a lot better than they thought they could with a rookie running back and J.D. McKissic and a bunch of other guys."

Run blocking might be Scherff's strength, but he's also greatly improved as one of the best pass-blocking guards in the NFL, too. According to Pro Football Focus, Scherff graded out as the sixth-best run-blocker at his position but the third-best guard at pass blocking. Additionally, Scherff was the only guard to have an 82.5 grade or higher in both categories.

If Washington does let Scherff hit the open market, he'll have plenty of suitors. Baldinger mentioned the Jets as a possible landing spot, but any team that has cap space and is in need of offensive line help will likely inquire about Scherff.

Washington could always franchise tag Scherff should they not be able to come to a long-term deal.

But, since Scherff played under the tag in 2020, his salary after signing the tender in 2021 would be nearly $18 million. That's far too expensive for Washington (or any team) to pay for a guard, and signing Scherff to a long-term contract would likely come with a lower annual value. 

Considering all these factors, it seems like Scherff will either be extended long-term or hit the open market. Baldinger doesn't think the latter should even be an option for Washington.

"I would do whatever I could to keep Scherff in town. Somebody is going to offer him if they don't," Baldinger said. "They can still build that line, but I can't let Scherff out of town. I can't do it."


Bloody Sunday's impact and legacy on the Lions' Trey Flowers, his family and team


State troopers use violence to break up a march in Selma, Alabama, on what is known as Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. The march aimed to improve voter registration among Black people and to protest the killing of a Black civil rights activist. AP Photo

Mar 7, 2021

Michael Rothstein | ESPN Staff Writer  

Trey Flowers sat in a Zoom town hall last summer, in the middle of a session about voting rights and voter registration, when the Detroit Lions defensive end began to speak. One of three NFL players on the call, he knew he wanted to share the story he heard tens of times growing up in Alabama.


Now, as part of a group put together by the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), he was going to tell the rest of the world.

Fifty-six years ago Sunday, Trey's uncle, Johnnie Flowers, marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. So did his maternal grandmother, Delores Carter, who was pregnant at the time.

Trey's mother, Jacqueline, said Delores came inches from being struck in the head with a billy club and was taken to jail.

When Delores was picked up at the station by family members, they went straight home -- refusing to stop for gas and pulling into the driveway on fumes.

March 7, 1965, would become known as "Bloody Sunday," a day when more than 600 people marching for civil rights were attacked by state troopers. The video of the event shocked the country and helped fuel the fight against racial injustice.

Detroit Lions defensive end Trey Flowers addresses the media with his teammates outside the Lions' training camp practice facility in Allen Park, Mich., on Aug. 25, 2020. The players were reacting to the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio



Two weeks later, Flowers' maternal grandmother, paternal grandfather and two uncles all participated in the five-day march from Selma to Montgomery to push for equal rights and the eventual passage of the Voting Rights Act.

A combination of Trey's family's story and the killing of Black men and women by police last year, which led to nationwide protests, stirred something in him. He wanted to speak out to try to become part of the solution. Telling the story he'd heard for years from his parents and his uncle Lee has helped Trey do it, even if at first he didn't realize how much impact it had.

"To me, it was just a story I've heard all my life," Flowers said. "But when I tell it and then people are impacted by it and they are like, 'Oh man, that's a unique story.' And I didn't realize how unique it would be initially just because I heard it all my life."

Flowers' grandfather, Robert Flowers Sr., was a Baptist minister and preacher in Selma in February 1965 when 26-year-old activist Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed by an Alabama State Police officer during a civil rights march in nearby Marion.

The community was outraged. It had been less than a year since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been enacted. James Bevel, a civil rights leader in the state, suggested a march in Selma.

Three generations of Flowers -- Trey Flowers' father, Robert Jr., with an infant Trey and Trey's grandfather, Robert SrRobert Flowers Jr.



The first attempt, which Flowers' relatives were a part of, was led by then-25-year-old John Lewis and the Rev. Hosea Williams. As they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Alabama state troopers fired tear gas and beat marchers with nightsticks. Delores and Johnnie were there.

For 13-year-old Lee Flowers, listening on the radio at home that day, this was a call to action. He wanted to be among the people to try to bring change.

"I told my daddy, I got to be at the next one," Lee said. "I said, I got to be involved the next time around. He allowed me."

Two weeks later, with the march from Selma to Montgomery, he would receive his opportunity.

Lee Flowers passed the hours after the first day of the Selma to Montgomery march at a campground, huddled in front of a space heater to ward off the cold Alabama night. As he watched the day break, Lee walked outside the tent and wandered around.

He saw a drum with a fire -- a place to warm up his hands and get a cup of coffee. As he stood there, he recalled, a door to a trailer he hadn't noticed opened.

"Hosea," the voice bellowed. "Where's Hosea?"

Lee said he looked up and saw the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. looking for Williams, one of the leaders of the civil rights movement. King looked down at Lee and told the man making coffee to give Lee the first cup. Lee says it's still the best coffee he has had in his life.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King lead a march from Selma. Front row: politician/civil rights activist John Lewis, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Ruth Harris Bunche, Nobel Prize-winning political scientist Ralph Bunche, activist Hosea Williams. William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images



Lee had seen King before. In the weeks before the Selma to Montgomery march, Lee and Johnnie spent a lot of time at Brown Chapel Church, where King would speak at one of the bases of the civil rights movement in Selma. But this was different. This was during the march, an up-close, one-on-one interaction and a surprise.

"I realized that, boy, I was out of place," Lee said. "I got away from there and moved on up. That was one of my highlights of my night there, and that morning they had breakfast. Everything was traveling and on the move.

"I walked up the hill and had a huge breakfast an hour or so later, and it was on, man. Marching again."

For two days, Lee and Johnnie marched through the sunshine and rain, taking breaks to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They sang songs, still etched in Lee's memory, about freedom, marching to Montgomery and then-Gov. George Wallace.

Delores, no longer marching because of her pregnancy, found another way to participate. "She decided to be the one to carry the food and water to those that needed it, so that was her thing to be, I guess, involved but not," said Jacqueline, Trey's mother. "Even though it was dangerous, to the point she was out there to be hit or whatever.

"She'd often talk about sneaking food and water to them and everything. And getting through. There was just so much unrest at the time and everything was just scary."

One of the people Trey said Delores handed water to was Viola Liuzzo, an activist who traveled to Alabama from Michigan to support the movement.

For days, through the rain, sun and nightfall, Lee marched in the same clothes without a shower. He wore a pair of work shoes and a cheap, weather-resistant dark green trench coat.

The coat, he said, helped get him through the colder parts of the five-day march.

"We really, we needed a bath, man," Lee said. "That's for real. It didn't cross your mind when you're marching. That wear and tear, it took its toll on us. It was quite an event, man. I remember it like it was yesterday."

Lee realized this when they finally reached Montgomery County. Celebrities started showing up for the last night, holding a concert dubbed "Stars for Freedom," with performances by Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr. and Tony Bennett.

Trey Flowers, center, has taken his social activism cue from his uncle Lee, second from rightLee Flowers


The next day, the final day, they marched to the capitol, where a rally was held, including a speech by King. By then, the crowd had increased to 25,000. To identify those who marched the whole way, organizers gave out orange vests. It allowed Lee to get toward the front for King's speech.

Lee marched 54 miles over five days to see King speak and to stand up for something he and his entire family believed in.

"They told us we wouldn't get here. And there were those who said that we would get here only over their dead bodies," King said in his speech that day. "But all the world today knows that we are here and we are standing before the forces of power in the state of Alabama saying, 'We ain't goin' let nobody turn us around.'"

When King's speech concluded, Lee went to find his father and his brother. Before the march started, Robert Sr. told his sons where to meet him in Montgomery. They would drive back to Selma together to once again meet at Brown Chapel Church.

They were exhausted, excited and proud. Lee wore his orange vest the entire ride home, beaming at what he had done. It was only when they returned to Brown Chapel that they learned what had happened.

"We weren't there 10 minutes," Lee said, "before they said, 'Take off them orange vests. Someone just got killed on Highway 80 coming back to Selma.'"

On the same route they had taken from Montgomery to Selma, the Ku Klux Klan had driven a car off the road and shot and killed a woman -- Liuzzo.

Lee took off the vest. Tucked it away. His father eventually took him home, where he showered and slept for an entire day. When he returned to school the next week, all his classmates had questions.

They had seen the news. Now they could talk to someone who was there.

"I came back to school and I had a crowd around me. 'How was it? How was the march? I wish I had been there,'" Lee said.

"I realized then how big it was to seize that moment, and I gave my daddy credit for that, for letting us participate in such an event. He didn't have to do that."

When Trey finished telling his story on the Zoom call -- an abridged version of what he'd heard from his mother, his father and his uncle Lee -- everyone was silent. Detroit Lions safety Duron Harmon couldn't believe what he had heard. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson had her hand to her mouth.


Benson had goose bumps. Her professional career had been centered around Selma and the march. She'd become friendly with Liuzzo's daughters and during the session texted two of them, Mary and Sally, to tell them what she was hearing.

Alabama state troopers block the way as protesters march on a highway outside Selma on March 9, 1965. The marchers, numbering about 2,000, turned back after a federal judge banned the march. AP Photo



By the end of the call, she promised to connect -- a conversation that has yet to happen between Trey and Liuzzo's daughters.

"It was mind-blowing," Benson said. "Also underscores the authenticity in which he comes to this. It's ingrained in his family. He's deeply committed to it.

"This isn't just an example of an athlete jumping on what has become quite a movement in sports [last] year, to engage in democracy. This clearly, to him, is a deep-rooted personal issue deep within his family's history."

Harmon, one of Trey's friends and teammates for years, had never heard Trey's story until the town hall. A history lover, Harmon peppered Trey with questions after the Zoom session about every aspect of his family story along with what they've learned from their own conversations with politicians.

Trey answered every one. Any time there was a panel on voting rights, Trey participated.

Jacqueline said Trey came to her after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd last year and wanted to know why there was so much hatred. He asked how could he possibly explain to his oldest daughter, Skyler, 8, "that the reason some things happen to Black people is that they are Black. You don't want to put that on a child's mindset."

"We just want to live in America, and they are hating us and we've done no harm," Jacqueline said. "So that was getting to him. He was questioning that, so when he was saying vote ... all of it is probably a combination of the wrongdoing to different Black males in America."

In the lead-up to the 2020 election, Trey participated in multiple town halls to speak up on the importance of voting and to tell his family's story.

The first time Trey voted, months after he turned 18, he requested and filed an absentee ballot because he was away in college at Arkansas. Not that he had a choice. His parents made it clear that voting was not optional. His family's story ensured it.

"It was any opportunity [my father] got, he'd get on that subject and stress the importance of what it was," Trey said. "He had so many kids, so maybe when one of the kids turned of age, I think that's when he would say like, 'OK, make sure you register to vote, make sure you exercise your right because your family fought hard for the right to vote.'

"When the kid turned 18, then we'll hear that story. And we'd know."

Robert Flowers Jr. -- Trey's dad -- told his son stories all the time while working construction when Trey was a kid. The story about his family's experiences from Selma to Montgomery was only one of them. When the marches happened, Robert Jr. was only age 5, so he couldn't participate. But every time his father talked, Trey listened intently.

"You got to act like you was there and you got to vote," Robert Jr. said. "People lost their lives for you to have the right to vote."

To keep the family's story alive and keep the tradition of learning, Trey plans to take his children and his nieces and nephews to the Edmund Pettus Bridge and to the Civil Rights Museum. Like his father, mother, uncles and grandparents before him, he wants to use the past to explain the future.

"I want them to be educated and understand how far we have come," Trey said. "And to know what it takes to get [there and] how far we have to go."

Lee Flowers went back to his mother's house one day, years after the march, and looked for the piece of history he held so dear. For a decade, Lee knew where the orange vest was.

Life happened. He traveled. Went to college. One day, when he went home and asked his mom where it was, she didn't know.

"It was just gone, man," Lee said. "We had all the songs on it, man. It was a big deal. That vest was important to us. But it disappeared, man, due to years."

Spurred on by a meeting with Henry Louis Gates Jr., a college friend of Detroit owner Sheila Ford Hamp, the Lions boycotted practice in protest of the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin. Michael Rothstein/ESPN



Thinking about it still saddens Lee; his prized possession, a piece of his history -- of America's history -- gone to the ether of time. But his family's true legacy is in what he sees when he looks at his nephew. He watches Trey speaking up and speaking out. Like many in Trey's life, they were at first surprised by it.

In August, when the Lions became the first team in sports to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake by canceling their practice, Harmon said Trey was one of the leaders to push them to actually protest.

Trey told his teammates there could be pushback from fans and even friends and family because of what they were planning to do.

Lions defensive end Trey Flowers is making an impact beyond the field and using his family's story to motivate others to exercise their right to voteKirk Irwin/Getty Images


"I expressed that it is a sacrifice by speaking out," Trey said. "I didn't share the sacrifice my family took, because although it was similar, it wasn't to the extent of theirs."

The sacrifices his family made in Alabama by protesting had resulted in lost lives in the 1960s. What he was asking his teammates to do was potentially sacrifice their brand, something he understood was far less serious, so he didn't want to use his family's story to equate the two.

He was, though, one of three Lions players who spoke publicly that day during their protest. Standing up to what you believe is wrong and speaking out against it had been part of his family. Now it was part of him.

Just another part of a new vocal world Trey inhabits, even if it is out of his comfort zone.

"I felt like the challenge I stepped up to is people want to make change, and it's like, 'OK, now I see, now I gained knowledge, now I want to be a part of change,' and with that they have to know the process of trying to be a part of change," Trey said. "And one of the processes of being part of change is voting. So I think for me, it's just a lot of people are doing a lot of different things to help change the country.

"I think my calling just naturally came as me speaking about voting because this is one factor that can create change here in the country and create change around the world."

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