In what should have been the most jovial moment of his young life, Quinton Flowers scampered off the practice field and hurried down the long corridor toward USF’s locker room, beaming from ear to ear.
On this Thursday afternoon last November, the true freshman had just been informed by coach Willie Taggart that he won a week-long quarterback competition and would be suiting up two days later under the lights in Dallas for his first collegiate start against SMU.
For Flowers, a lifetime of working and fantasizing about this chance had finally become reality — he made it.
Once inside the locker room, Flowers exchanged pleasantries with teammates, before taking out his phone to call and deliver the news to his brother, Nathaniel.
As soon as Nathaniel answered, before he could utter a word, an elated Flowers poured his heart out.
‘I’m just gonna do whatever I can,” Flowers recalled telling him. “Coach gave me the opportunity.”
On the other end of the line, there was no celebration from Nathaniel. There were no howls of jubilation — no signs of excitement.
Instead, Nathaniel began to sob, Flowers recalled.
“What’s wrong?” Flowers asked.
“Brad just got shot,” Nathaniel replied through his tears.
‘Keep going, keep fighting’
Before signing with USF last February, Flowers built quite the resume as a prep star, rising to become one of South Florida’s finest dual-threat quarterbacks in 2013. Branded a four-star prospect out of Miami Jackson High, Flowers was widely considered one of the best athletes in the nation by several recruiting services and received countless offers from prestigious programs such as Alabama, Florida and Nebraska.
But shielded behind his curtain of accolades and versatility under center, a long trail of calamity has loomed behind Flowers since youth.
When Flowers was 7, his father, Nathaniel Sr., was killed after being shot in the neck in front of the family’s home in Liberty City, a suburb of Miami.
Then, entering his senior year at Miami Jackson, Flowers’ mother, Nancy Mans, passed away after a battle with cancer.
The loss was particularly challenging for Flowers. The youngest of five siblings, Flowers did all he could for her.
“No matter where I’m at, I could be 10 blocks away, I’d run to her and see what she wanted no matter what it is,” Flowers said. “Even if she would tell me, ‘Get the remote off the dresser,’ I’d get there.”
On the day his mother passed, Flowers’ older sister Shanay called and told him to come to the hospital as quickly as he could. Mans didn’t have much time. She was slipping away.
Before he reached her bedside, Nancy’s heart stopped beating. But almost as if she could sense his presence, Flowers said his mother came back to life, wanting to see her son one last time.
“She really died and came back,” Flowers said. “I don’t know how. But said she just wanted to see me. I was the only one she didn’t see.
“The last words she told me was, ‘Keep going, keep fighting.’”
And just like that, she was gone.
Flowers couldn’t believe what Nathaniel was telling him. His mind couldn’t wrap itself around what his ears were hearing. His proudest moment was collapsing around him.
“What do you mean?” Flowers remembered asking.
“He got shot in the head,” Nathaniel explained. Brad Holt was Flowers’ 24-year-old half-brother.
On Nov. 13, according to the Miami Herald, Holt noticed a yellow Ford Mustang driving recklessly in front of his apartment complex. Fearing for the safety of several children playing near the car, Holt called out to the driver, yelling for him to slow down.
A short time later, Miami-Dade Police said the car’s driver returned to the complex and shot Holt, who was pronounced dead upon arriving at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Flowers was crushed.
“That just left a bad taste in my mouth,” he said. “The last word I got from my brother (was), ‘Whatever the coaches do, let them teach you because that’s why they’re there. Take the opportunity.’ And that’s the last thing I got from him.”
Word about the tragedy quickly spread to the team.
Sophomore running back Marlon Mack said the team did its best to rally around him.
“We talked to him every day to make sure he was all right,” Mack said. “Whenever he was feeling down and needed someone to talk to him, he would text us or one of us would call him and come around and help him out to try and keep his spirits up.”
Taggart also knew about the situation, calling Flowers into his office to console his young signal-caller.
Flowers reassured Taggart he could make the start. Nothing was going to take away what he worked to earn.
Before a national-television audience, Flowers kept his word and started under center that Saturday at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
But, understandably, his mind was far from the field.
On a 40-degree, rain-soaked night, Flowers struggled before being pulled early in the fourth quarter with the Bulls trailing 13-0. For the final 10 minutes or so, Flowers watched from the sideline as backup Mike White led USF to victory with two late touchdown passes.
Though things didn’t go the way he wanted them to, Flowers earned newfound respect from his teammates.
“He came out here, man, and he played his heart out,” former receiver Andre Davis said.
Flowers was given another chance to start this season, battling with senior Steven Bench through the spring and preseason camp to earn the nod.
This time, he made it count.
On Monday afternoon, Taggart announced Flowers will start the Bulls’ season opener against Florida A&M on Sept. 5.
“I’m blessed, just a blessing,” Flowers said. “To come out here every day and work with these guys and compete, Coach T gave me an opportunity. … Steve came out, Steve worked every day, I worked every day, and I left it up to the coaches.”
When Flowers takes the field as a starter at Raymond James Stadium, thousands of eyes will be focused on him, eager to see if he can finally be the quarterback USF has longed for since B.J. Daniels graduated in 2012.
To Taggart, it’s nothing Flowers can’t handle.
“You can’t let anybody see you sweat, and you don’t ever see him sweat,” Taggart said. “You don’t see his demeanor change. He’s been through it all.
“I don’t think there’s anything that he can go through in football that’s going to get him down.”