TAMPA — As the first hint of autumn crispness wafted across the Morsani Complex on Wednesday, Quinton Flowers trotted onto USF's practice fields with the same objective he has brought to every workout this season.
Improve on two things today.
One of Wednesday's focal points was "juke moves." Four days before at Tulane, USF's senior quarterback had taken a shotgun snap, faked a handoff, duped at least three defenders by feinting left then right in the backfield, then dashed up the middle for a 21-yard touchdown.
It's a blend of balance, sleekness and instinct many insist can't be taught. He was trying to teach it to his running backs nonetheless.
"Them guys always ask me, 'How you do that? How do you get in and out of holes?'?" Flowers said. "And I was just trying to help them guys put something in their repertoire, just make them miss guys or that one guy that's left. … That's just going back to being a teammate and that's what I like to be."
By all accounts, he has remained the consummate one, even though his senior season hasn't been ideal.
The adjustment from a quick-strike horizontal offensive scheme to a power-based vertical one has taken time. Flowers' pass efficiency rating (132.08) is down from this point last season (148.0).
So is his rushing average, from 7 yards per carry to 5.3.
Many fans insist first-year coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's system confines Flowers, and exposes his struggles with deep throws.
Those Heisman whispers? They dissipated weeks ago.
Yet through it all, the core — and character — of Flowers hasn't wavered, peers and coaches insist.
"Q hasn't changed," senior receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling said.
Nor have the end results. A victory today against Houston would be Flowers' 28th as USF's starting quarterback, tying Matt Grothe for second place in USF history. With three wins, he ties Marquel Blackwell for the school record.
He has led 17th-ranked USF to the program's first 7-0 start.
"He's an amazing teammate," Bulls coach Charlie Strong said.
"From the day I took this job to where I'm at now, he's still that same person, and nothing has changed about him. But that's why you like him and you respect him so much."
Imagine the temptation, especially as a senior in a new system, to walk into Strong's office and beg for the scheme to adapt to his skill set.
Yet Flowers' next sign of discontent will be his first. Sure, there was the 15-yard penalty against Temple for taunting after a play, but only because he seemed more geeked up than normal against a team that shattered the Bulls' conference title hopes last season.
And those periodic gestures when Flowers pats both hands on his chest, as if to suggest "feed me" to the coaches on the sideline?
He says that's not what he's conveying.
"Not at all," he said. "That's just saying, 'We've gotta work.' That's us, we have to work in the red zone, we have to punch the ball in every chance we get. And we haven't been doing that."
Here's what he has been doing: amassing 265.4 total yards a game (31st nationally), honoring every media request brought to him by USF officials (some as early as 7:15 a.m.), and re-telling his heartbreaking life story more times than he can count (including for an ESPN College GameDay feature to air this morning).
Speaking of that story, more sadness was woven into it in early September.
Flowers and the Bulls were en route to their hotel the day before the Sept. 2 Stony Brook game when he learned his aunt, Judith Mans, had passed away from blood-clot issues at age 51. Judith was the sister of Flowers' mom, whose death from cancer when he was in high school left him an orphan.
"When my mom left she was always there," said Flowers, whose dad was shot and killed outside his family's Liberty City home when he was 7.
"She always kept me in her prayers. … She was one of them people who always went to church, got me to go to church. She just always did the things that a mom would do, or a sister would do for her sister."
The following day, against a Division I-AA opponent, USF failed to score on seven of its first eight possessions in an underwhelming 31-17 victory. Flowers led all players with 253 total yards. Afterward, he told reporters he missed way too many reads.
"At the end of the day, I put the blame on me," he said.
"I told him, 'It's amazing. We're in the position we're in right now, and we have a lot of guys that play well, but you are the guy that has put us in this position because you could've very easily made it about yourself.'?" Strong said earlier this week.
"We weren't playing good early on offense, and you could've just said, 'Okay, this is what I did last year and I'm not doing that right now, so who's to blame?' And there was never any finger-pointing. He was like, 'You know what coach, I've got to get better.'?"
Call it a juke move against individualism and conventional thought.
"We both don't talk very much, we both kinda lead by example and he's definitely come into his own this year, you know, just trying to lead the team," senior safety Devin Abraham said. "When people thought he was down, he wasn't. He was just working and (is) a great competitor."
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.