Tough background keeps things in perspective for USF QB Quinton Flowers

A tragedy-filled life has toughened new starter Flowers.

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Published August 25 2015
Updated August 26 2015

TAMPA — The starting quarterback job now is his to cement. The resolve was hardened long ago.

Such is worth remembering as Quinton Flowers embarks on his first full season as USF's No. 1 guy. Conventional logic suggests that, before Flowers nails the job down, he might get nailed himself. At some point on this journey, be it in Tampa or Tallahassee, he'll likely get stuffed and sacked, flushed or perhaps even flustered.

But he won't get rattled. Not a chance. The sequence of tragedies that has broken his heart off the field has yielded an unbreakable psyche on it.

"You can't let anybody see you sweat and you don't ever see him sweat. You don't see his demeanor change. He's been through it all," coach Willie Taggart said. "I don't think there's anything that he can go through in football that's going to get him down."

On Tuesday morning, roughly 15 hours after announcing Flowers had edged senior Steven Bench for the Bulls' starting gig, Taggart spoke of the tangible qualities — mobility, creativity and a wholly unappreciated right arm — that prompted him and his staff to collectively tab the 21-year-old sophomore.

In a new, spread-style scheme heavy on zone reads, all are practically prerequisites.

"He can do some things that the average Joe can't do," Taggart said.

But beneath those traits lurks a resolve steeled by adversity, and a soul desperate to honor those he has lost. If nothing else, Bulls fans needn't fear whether their quarterback arrives at Raymond James Stadium in that proverbial zone. Fate forces him there daily.

"A lot of people don't understand the things I went through in my life," Flowers said after Tuesday morning's practice.

"I always just try to come every day to this facility, be on this campus, and always have a smile on my face. I can't take my anger out on anyone else, I can't do anything to anyone else, because that's not me. I've always been a guy who, if something happens, something goes wrong, I can just stay in my zone and think about the things I can do to make myself happy."

It took no fewer than three funerals for Flowers to encounter that state of mind.

Raised in the bleak, crime-infested Miami suburb of Liberty City, Flowers was 7 when his dad, Nathaniel, died after being shot in the neck outside their home. During his junior year at Miami Jackson High, his mother, Nancy Mans, the one who nicknamed him "Boobie," succumbed to cancer.

Then last year, two nights before his first collegiate start at SMU, an older brother phoned Flowers in the locker room immediately after practice, informing him that Flowers' 24-year-old stepbrother, Bradley Holt, had been murdered outside a Miami apartment complex.

He started at SMU anyway, and posted pedestrian numbers (6-for-15, 105 yards) in merciless conditions (43-degree temperatures, a 12-mph mist). He was replaced in the fourth quarter by Mike White, who threw two late TDs to rally the Bulls to a 14-13 victory.

"I mean, the things that kid's been through, a lot of adults can't get through," Taggart said. "And to come out with a smile every day, and a great attitude and being a great team player ever since he's been here, that's great to have."

The SMU game would be Flowers' lone start of 2014. The following Saturday, he attended Bradley's funeral in Miami, and he arrived at Memphis' Liberty Bowl about an hour before the Bulls' game against the Tigers. He appeared briefly in that contest and didn't appear at all in the season finale against UCF.

But he transitioned effectively to the redesigned offense — similar to the one he engineered at Miami Jackson — in the offseason and emerged from spring drills as the apparent front-runner for the starting job. He appeared to take the initial snaps at most preseason practices, alternating first-team reps with Bench.

"The things I showed the coaches was my running ability," Flowers said.

"I'm very mobile with my legs, I can do a lot of things with my legs. I've got speed, I've got things some of the (running) backs can do like Marlon Mack. … And I've got good arm strength."

In the first extended scrimmage of the preseason, Flowers and Bench combined for three interceptions, though Bench also threw 25- and 95-yard TDs. Flowers directed a unit of mostly second-teamers on a 90-yard drive that stalled inside the 5.

A second scrimmage this past Saturday, in which Taggart said both had completion percentages of better than 75 percent, was closed to the public. Two days later, USF announced in a news release that Flowers had been named starter.

"He can make plays happen," Taggart said. "He can extend plays and I think a lot of people, because they haven't seen him throw the ball, think he can't throw the football. But the kid can throw the football. I think he'll show everyone that he can do that as well."

Which isn't to suggest Bulls fans will see a Russell Wilson replicate in the Sept. 5 season opener against Florida A&M, or the Sept. 12 road opener at FSU. At one juncture or another, Flowers may find himself out of sorts, under duress or off the mark.

But he'll perpetually be in his zone, remembering his mom's final words to him: Keep going, keep fighting.

"So that's what I go by every day," he said. "I just keep going, try to keep everybody else motivated."

Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.