It all started at the age of 7.
Before Quinton Flowers and Deatrick Nichols were making plays for USF, they were just two best friends playing backyard football in the Miami heat.
Then, before the age of ten, that backyard football quickly turned to competitive football when Flowers experienced his first taste of recruiting at age 10.
“How I met Deatrick was in the neighborhood, all the kids played together and his cousin is my god sister,” Flowers said. “Deatrick played for the Northwest Boys (& Girls) Club and his cousin and uncle coached over there, and when they saw me throw one time with Deatrick outside they asked me to be on the team. Then it just went from there.”
Constantly playing with older kids, sometimes up to three years older than them, Nichols and Flowers stuck together to survive, developing their special skills along the way.
“We were kind of the youngest, so we played with each other,” Nichols said. “We just had a knack. We were the youngest people out there, so we had to be together and that’s how we got each other better at a young age without even knowing.
“Playing with the older guys, they know you’re younger, and that if you’re still doing talented things around them they knew you had a gift – and that’s how we were able to play with them, because we did have a gift.”
The duo loved to do anything active growing up, but football was their No. 1 passion, playing together all the way until 2010 when high school zoning split the two.
Despite living right down the road from each other in north Miami, Flowers went to Miami Jackson Senior High and Nichols to Miami Central.
Nichols, a cornerback, would go on to win a Class 6A state championship his senior year, while Flowers and his Generals went 5-5.
After starting his freshman year as a cornerback, Flowers became Miami Jackson’s star player, accumulating three straight team MVP’s to close out his time there.
Despite being less than five miles apart, Nichols' and Flowers’ schools never played against each other. Despite going to different schools, however, the two still yearned to play for the same team again – one day.
“There was a time my last year or two, I was planning on going to play with Deatrick in high school, but I didn’t get that chance,” Flowers said. “Me and him kind of linked up and talked about all the schools we had (offering us). Deatrick was a guy that decided he wanted to go to a school early to learn the techniques and try to get on the field early.
“I found out that he was going to end up going to USF (for a visit) where we’re at now. When he got here, we started talking and we told each other that we’d be on the same team along down the line and here we are now.”
Before Flowers made the decision to go to USF, however, he had plenty of offers from several Power-5 schools, including Miami and Nebraska.
A mix of his best friend being at USF and former coach Willie Taggart’s faith in him as a 6-foot quarterback would ultimately push Flowers to Tampa.
“For me, I was really big on leaning toward Marshall or Nebraska,” Flowers said. “They were in the mix. Florida came and talked to me. I (originally) wanted to go to Miami because that’s the hometown team. I wanted to do something for the hometown, but once Al Golden said what he said to me about playing running back, I shut that down.
“Florida didn’t bring a quarterback coach to me, so I shut that down, too. The only school that really believed in me was USF and Coach Taggart.”
To close out the deal and get his best friend on board, Nichols had a message for his lifelong friend while he was early-enrolled at USF.
“I told him let’s go to USF," Nichols said. "It’s close to home, it’s something that we’ve been doing in the past – building programs. Because we never went to the best Optimist (youth football) team, and we never played for a good team, we wanted to turn something around. We usually tried to brighten up a team, and so we said let’s do it on the next level.”
After some deliberation, Flowers agreed. USF football could use some brightening up — so he signed.
Ever since, there’s been nothing but progress for USF and the duo, with the possibility for even more in 2017.
Ranked in the Associated Press’ preseason Top 25 for the first time since 2008, USF is currently favored to win every game regular-season 2017 game on its schedule. Flowers is receiving national attention as a potential Heisman candidate, as well as being placed on numerous award watch lists.
Four years ago, the idea of USF having a chance to make the college playoff – or the BCS National Championship game at the time – would have been absurd.
In 2017, it’s still far off, but definitely not impossible.
“I think Charlie Strong and the USF Bulls have a chance to be that team. Sixteen starters back including (Quinton Flowers) Won 11 last year!” – National college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit tweeted in a reply about if a non-Power 5 school could make the college playoff.
Though his name isn’t passing through the national airwaves like his quarterback, Nichols has made a name for himself at USF and has been named to the Nagurski, Bednarik and Thorpe preseason watch lists. In 2016, he led the Bulls’ secondary with four interceptions.
In an August article by Sports Illustrated, an “anonymous” rival coach mentioned just how talented Nichols is.
“Deatrick Nichols was the hardest cornerback for us to get open on in the league last year,” the anonymous coach said. “Overall, (USF’s) pass defense wasn’t as bad as people think. They’re a big-play offense, and because they scored so fast, their defense played more plays than the offense.”
Despite the attention, however, Flowers’ and Nichols’ only focus is winning.
“We always said it was bigger than us,” Nichols said. “We love the individual things we have, but first and foremost, we go for the team goals – winning, being nationally ranked and everything like that. That’s our biggest goals.”
No matter what happens in USF’s highly anticipated 2017 season, Flowers and Nichols will have a bond they share for life.
“It’s like a communication without talking,” Nichols said. “If he sees me down, I don’t have to come to him and be like ‘I don’t feel good.’ It’s just something he knows. It’s like your mom knowing, and asking what’s wrong with you…
“Just knowing somebody all of their life you know when they’re having their ups and downs and when they’re pushing hard. It’s like being around a brother.”
Flowers and Nichols will start their senior campaigns on Saturday at 7 p.m. against San Jose State. They’ll return for the home opener on Sept. 2, but beating San Jose State is the only game on their mind for the time being.
“You have to make every game count,” Flowers said. “You’ve got to take things one game at a time and not look ahead. Just take everything one game at a time and trust each other.
“Everybody’s got a target on us and we have a target on them.”