When former Bulls D’Ernest Johnson, Deatrick Nichols and Deadrin Senat suited up to represent the East team in the annual East-West Shrine Game on Saturday, a part of them was missing.
Former USF quarterback Quinton Flowers, 23, who already had to overcome the loss of both of his parents and oldest brother, was listed and practiced as the team’s No. 2 quarterback all last week in preparation for the game. He was fully prepared to put on a show for NFL scouts and boost his draft stock. Then, just a day before the game was held at Tropicana Field, it was announced that he had endured another loss in the family. This time, it was his grandmother.
As a sophomore at USF, Flowers played in his first collegiate start just days after his brother was shot and killed in 2015. After the most recent tragedy, Flowers elected to return home to Miami to be with his family instead of playing.
“I told him, man, do what your heart tells you to do,” Senat said after Saturday's game. “Family is the most important thing in this world. She’s all that you had. Go spend time with your family, they need you right now. They need you to step up.
“It’s more than just a game. I understand that he wants to show everybody what he can do, but just trust the process. He’s going to have a time and place to do what he has to do. The time and stage will come and he’ll be ready.”
Senat, due to a minor knee injury, decided to not play in the Shrine Game after discussions with his agent.
Johnson and Nichols, however, played well in the contest. Johnson picked up the largest rush (16 yards) of the game between both teams and caught a 12-yard pass out of the backfield.
Nichols, a Miami native who’s been friends and teammates with Flowers since elementary school, played nickelback and wasn’t targeted in the passing defense all game.
“We were playing for him,” Nichols said. “That’s my brother, man. I called him before the game and when he landed (in Miami), everything like that. That’s just my family as well. We really grew up together.”
The East lost the game, 14-10, after quarterback J.T. Barrett threw four consecutive incompletions and turned the ball over on downs with less than a minute to play.
The loss itself, however, came nowhere near the pain that the former Bulls were feeling for Flowers.
“I had to play my role, but he’s always on my mind,” Nichols said. “Just right now even, I’m thinking about him. Once I go in, I’m going to go call him. People say things about him and things like that, but I really know him and feel his pain. His pain is my pain.”