Florida, Football and Family - Football is a Flowers Family Affair
By Mike DeVine
Originally published Nov. 10, 2007 in the FSU game programDuring an impressive career at Atlantic High School in Delray Beach, Fla., current Virginia Tech boundary cornerback Brandon Flowers came up with five interceptions and three quarterback sacks as a first-team all-area and all-conference performer, while helping his team to a combined 36-4 record. Flowers thought that he had shown how good he was to several Bowl Championship Series schools, but one thing held him back. "Not too many schools looked at me coming out of high school," Flowers said. "No one wanted to take a chance on me because my grades were so low. That's why I had to go to Hargrave [Military Academy]." Flowers' parents, Patricia and Willie, took a chance by taking out loans to cover the expenses to help him attend the Chatham, Va., prep school for the 2003-04 academic year where tuition cost $21,000. "I studied hard every night (at Hargrave) and the classes I took also prepared me for the SAT and the ACT," Flowers said. "I spent about eight hours a day, every day just preparing, so that allowed me to get my grades up." Flowers' improvement at Hargrave was not limited to just the classroom. He also worked hard in the weight room and improved his speed, while growing closer to future Tech teammates. "D.J. Parker, Justin Harper, Cory Holt and Orion Martin were all there with me," Flowers said. "We were like brothers even before we came to Virginia Tech. Everyone on this team is like brothers now, but the five of us share an extra bond because we suffered in those hot, sticky dorms with no TV or cell phones. We had to stick together to get through that, so we were already close before we came to Blacksburg." The close-knit group on Hargrave's 2003 post-graduate team gained exposure by playing reserve teams at some of the elite schools in college football. "We played JV teams from Virginia Tech, West Virginia and South Carolina," Flowers said. "The games were very competitive because everyone wanted the coaches at these schools to look at them. Everyone on our team wanted to show that they could go out there and dominate. We were going against D-1 players and just wanted to prove that we could play with them." One of Hargrave's fiercest opponents was Fork Union Military Academy, which fielded a squad that also featured two of Flowers' future teammates: Devin Perez and Josh Morgan. "[Playing Fork Union] was a big rivalry," Flowers said. "[The game in 2003] was intense. There were big-time athletes on both teams, with high scoring and hard hitting. It was like an All-American game." The competition even resonated into Flowers' first season in Blacksburg. "When we first came to Tech, I was playing one-on-one against Josh and we would go back and forth to get the Hargrave/Fork Union thing going. When you go to Hargrave, all you hear about is Fork Union. "We had a little rivalry when we first came to Blacksburg, but we've adapted to becoming brothers," Flowers said. The family atmosphere at Tech has since tamed the Hargrave/Fork Union feud, but the benefits of functioning in such a structured environment have stuck with Flowers. "The most important thing I gained at Hargrave was becoming more disciplined. When I was in high school, I was kind of immature, but in military school, I had to wake up, go to bed, and eat dinner at a certain time. I had no choice but to be disciplined." Equipped with qualifying test scores, Flowers enrolled at Tech in the fall of 2004, the same season the Hokies joined the Atlantic Coast Conference, where Flowers has developed into a third-team AP All-American and first-team All-ACC performer. He collected a team-high-tying 3.5 sacks in 2006, and entering the Georgia Tech game had 122 career tackles with 16 TFLs and seven career interceptions, with two being returned for touchdowns. His parents have driven from Delray Beach - a 13-hour drive - for virtually every game and have liked what they've seen, for the most part. Willie, a former Florida State cornerback, has always been quick to evaluate his son's performance regardless of how many accolades and impressive statistics Flowers acquires. "Every little thing I do, he'll explain what he would do if he was playing, like 'I would have broken on the ball this way,' " Flowers said. "He's been doing that since I was about 7 years old. At first, I thought he was just playing around, but then he pulled out all of his articles to show how good he was. Every little thing I do, my dad is my toughest critic." What would his parents do if Tech was still a member of the BIG EAST Conference, with mandatory trips to schools like Syracuse and Pittsburgh? "To be honest," Flowers said. "I have no idea what my mom and dad would do if we were still in the BIG EAST. I'm sure they would still travel to every game, but they would probably fly. I don't know how they would get there, but they would be at every game." Last season's game at Miami not only offered Flowers a chance to achieve a lifelong goal, but also gave the entire Flowers family a rare chance to see him play in person, not to mention reducing Willie and Patricia's travel budget. "That was like a dream, playing in the Orange Bowl," Flowers said. "Growing up, I went to all of the Miami/Florida State games. Just playing in that stadium with all eyes on me, like how I used to look up to those guys before me, was a nice feeling. I had a lot of family members who got a chance to see me playing on that field, so it was a special game for me. I had a good game with a couple of interceptions, so it was like a storybook ending." Being around the Hurricanes for most of his life explains which team Flowers cheered for while growing up. "I followed Miami," he said. "When I was in high school, they were winning national championships and I went to their games a lot of the time, so I had to pick Miami." But a healthy rivalry with his father can also take credit for sparking his interest in the Hurricanes. "We agree on a lot of stuff now," Flowers said. "But when I was growing up, I always picked the opposite team just to tease him. I always looked up to him but I wanted to pick the better team, so it was just a friendly little competition." Since stepping on the field at Tech, Flowers has been anything but friendly to his competition, punishing opponents with a physical style of play despite being one of the smaller players on the field, listed as 5'10" and weighing 200 pounds. "We're always in the box, blitzing," Flowers said. "Sometimes I even have to take on an offensive tackle and somehow maintain my gap. Being a defensive back, I definitely have to be physical. I just have to go out there and not back down. A lot of guys know how hard it is for a boundary corner to play in this defense the way I've been playing it, and I think a lot of the guys appreciate that. When they see me out there making big plays and big hits, it gets them going just like it gets me going." Flowers and the entire Tech defense fed off the energy of one of his most memorable hits, which propelled the Hokies to a 35-10 win last season in Chapel Hill, N.C. "In the North Carolina game," Flowers said. "They threw a little spot pass that just set me up to get a big hit on the receiver. The hit set the tone for not only the defense, but the entire team. We just went on and played hard and the defense kept making hard hits that game." Even with a penchant for crowd-pleasing hits on unsuspecting wideouts, Flowers would still rather affect a game in pass coverage. Of his seven career interceptions, he has returned two for touchdowns: a 38-yard score in his first collegiate game against Western Michigan in 2004 and a 49-yard return for touchdown earlier this season against William & Mary. "Interceptions turn the game around much more quickly," Flowers said. "Gaining possession can change the game around in our favor, big time." Flowers' family bragging rights may be on the line when Virginia Tech faces his father's former team as well as his boyhood rivals in Lane Stadium. "Oh yeah, I'm definitely excited for this game," Flowers said. "My dad played [at Florida State] and there are a few guys who played on my high school team or are from my area [on the FSU roster], so I'm definitely going to be amped up." No matter how excited Flowers may be, he knows his parents and 'brothers' will be right there with him. "Both my dad and mom will be more excited than me. Just seeing Florida State take the field will be enough to get everyone in the stadium going."