BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — At 5 years old, albeit bigger and stronger than your average 5-year-old, Trey Flowers went to work.
His father, Robert, owned a construction company in Huntsville, Alabama. He was also raising 10 children. Flowers Construction Co. was a family business, which meant every last one of those kids was going to not just help their father, but, Robert believed, learn how to help themselves by understanding the value of an honest day’s work.
“We grew up knowing that Dad has a construction company,” Trey said. “So summers, when you don’t have school, you are pretty much working for him. At 5, 6, I was on the site. At that age, I was probably just fetching the tools and getting stuff, cleaning up the wood. The older I got the bigger my role got.”
Trey Flowers is now a star defensive end for the New England Patriots, who play Philadelphia on Sunday in the Super Bowl. This is his third year in the league. This could be his second championship. He recorded 62 tackles this season, plus 6.5 sacks and will be a key for New England to stop Philly’s effective run-pass option plays.
Flowers, 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, draws a direct line for his NFL success to those long, hot summers working as a kid for a no-nonsense father.
“You’ve got to wake up every day with a purpose,” Trey said. “You’ve got to wake up and be productive, wake up with something to do. Real early you learn to understand hard work, understand what it takes to be successful.
“It definitely taught me hard work.”
The Flowers would leave the house at 6 a.m. and might not get home until 8 p.m., basically sunrise to sunset. Then do it again the next day, building homes, commercial sites, whatever project they could get. It was serious business.
The job site held an allure, though. For one, he was surrounded by family. He was the seventh of Robert’s 10 children, so following his older siblings was natural.
Still, while other kids slacked off, or specialized in athletics, he worked. Robert needed the help. And as Trey got older and stronger, the help he could provide was considerable. Digging ditches and trenches morphed into more skilled labor. By 12, Trey was roofing, hanging dry wall and spreading concrete.
There was more to it than that, though.
“I worked hard,” Robert told the Providence Journal last year. “I wanted them to work, too. Trey worked as hard as I did. When he was 12 years old, he was worth $25 an hour to me. He could put on as much shingles or do as much construction work as any grown man.”
There was still time for sports, of course, basketball, football, whatever. The focus for all the Flowers kids was graduating from college. Robert attended Alabama A&M and wanted his children to follow his success in academics. They would learn a blue-collar work ethic in construction, but an education was paramount. Sports was one path there.
His oldest son, Rob, played basketball at Cincinnati on some great Bob Huggins-coached teams and later as a pro in Europe. Another son, Jamal, played football at Middle Tennessee. A daughter, Jazzmine, was a standout soccer player for Alabama A&M.
Trey was another level. He was incredibly strong, capable of knocking out 100 push-ups as a second grader. He took to football because he loved hitting people. It was the only place where he was allowed to assert himself, where being bigger and stronger than his peers wasn’t something to apologize about.
“That’s what I liked about it,” Flowers said. “Just being able to be physical, be violent and not get in trouble. It’s always been fun for me. Especially being on the defensive side of the ball, delivering the hits, not taking the hits.”
He wound up with a scholarship to Arkansas. The demands of the SEC are intense, so Trey’s days as a summer construction worker ended as he focused on football and school. He became an instant starter and mainstay on the Razorbacks’ defensive line. He earned an economics degree from the Walton College of Business; like his dad, he hopes to own his own business after pro football.
He was second-team All-SEC as a senior, but lasted until the fourth round until the Patriots grabbed him. He’s not particularly tall for the position.
Joining a loaded roster coming off a Super Bowl title, nothing was given to him. He had to fight to first make the team and then eventually play. He was active for just one game as a rookie. Rather than be discouraged, he kept grinding.
“I tell kids all the time, the older you get, the less opportunity you have,” Trey said. “So you have to take advantage of the opportunity you have right now.”
Last year he broke through, starting eight games. He recorded 2.5 sacks in the Super Bowl victory over Atlanta. His last one knocked the Falcons out of field-goal range late in the fourth quarter.
Now he’s a team leader.
“I will tell you this, Trey Flowers is one of the hardest-working guys I have ever had the privilege to coach,” said Brendan Daly, the Patriots’ defensive line coach. “You name it, he does it. He’s in the building during days off. He’s getting an extra workout in. He’s studying tape. He’s getting other guys to go with him after practice. You can talk with our community relations folks, I don’t think he’s ever said no to them. He’s always doing events.”
At the post-Super Bowl party last year, Daly said he made a point to go and meet Trey’s parents and express his admiration for their son.
“I do believe people are a reflection of the people that raised them and he is one of the finest young men I’ve been around,” Daly said. “His parents must have done one hell of a good job.”
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