He was an average football player from North Miami High who became a star linebacker for Division II Washburn University in Topeka, Kan. She was a hometown girl who taught him how to drive a stick shift car, took him home to her family for Thanksgiving dinners and helped him get acquainted to life in the Midwest.
Three years later, Tanya Stokes got pregnant heading into Everald Flowers’ senior season. Their plan: She would take care of their son with the help of her family and finish graduate school; he would return home and do the same at FIU.
“We pretty much finished everything and were planning marriage,” said Everald Flowers, the father of University of Miami freshman right tackle Ereck Flowers. “Then, she got sick.”
Stokes was diagnosed with stomach cancer in February 2000. She died a few months later before the couple could marry, the day after Thanksgiving at age 30, leaving behind a broken-hearted college sweetheart and a very sad and confused 6-year-old boy.
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“I didn’t really even know she was dying,” said Ereck, who moved to North Miami a few months after his mother’s passing to live with his father permanently. “Then, I woke up one morning and the ambulance was there.”
What Flowers didn’t know was his parents had been planning for his mother’s eventual passing for months.
“She said I want you to raise our son to the best of your capabilities, make sure he’s the best guy he can be,” said Everald, 40, who now works for the federal government. “In the end, you always want your kid to have a better life than you.”
Making a commitment
Twelve years later, Everald Flowers feels like he’s on the doorstep of that reality.
His only child — and the only person he’s made time for since Flowers’ mother died — will start in his first college game Saturday at Boston College. And like every single one of his son’s previous games, Everald will be at Alumni Stadium to cheer Ereck on in person, fulfilling a commitment he made long ago.
Listed at 6-6, 314-pounds, Flowers won’t be the first true freshman to start in his first collegiate game in his family. His father did that at Washburn. But he will be the first true freshman to do it at Miami since quarterback Jacory Harris and receiver Aldarius Johnson started against Charleston Southern in the 2008 opener.
“It’s part of the reason I chose this school,” Flowers said on UM’s media day earlier this month, the only time true freshmen have been allowed to talk to reporters since they arrived. “I knew I had chance to play early.”
Although Flowers has moved quickly into the starting lineup since arriving in January, the ride from Topeka to where he is today wasn’t always a smooth one. After his mother passed, his father said, “Ereck was angry.”
But once Ereck understood his mother wanted him to make the most of himself, he became more obedient. Everald said he put Ereck into sports, and “it helped the healing.” Everald coached Ereck at Ives Estates Park in football and basketball and signed him up for baseball and soccer.
Everald admits he was hard on his son at times.
“As his coach, I wasn’t afraid to send him to the car when he wasn’t giving the effort I wanted,” Everald said.
But he was always a devoted father.
“For me, the focus has always been getting Ereck where he needed to be,” Everald said. “As soon as he was done with school, I was there to pick him up, take him to practice. If I wasn’t coaching him, I was mentoring him.”
Everald said he never dated much after Stokes’ death.
“I didn’t have much time for a personal life,” he said.
Neither has his son, who only began playing on the offensive line and taking football seriously during his junior year at Miami Dr. Krop. By the time he transferred and became an All-American at Miami Norland, Flowers grew from 6-4, 260 pounds to roughly what he is today.
Although UM was among the last schools to offer Flowers a scholarship, once coach Al Golden told him he could compete for a starting job on his official visit, Everald said his son committed to the Canes and began focusing on graduating early. Ereck took night and online classes while opening holes for Mr. Florida Football and current UM teammate Duke Johnson, who led the Vikings to a 15-0 record and Class 5A state title.
“He skipped homecoming, prom, graduation,” Everald said. “As a parent, you’re proud. But at the same time it’s what we’ve been working for. We’re just seeing the fruits of our labor. He says, ‘Dad, somebody might be better than me or faster than me, but they’re not going to work as hard as me.’ ”
Since coaches told Flowers he needed to get stronger after the spring game, Everald said his son has shed 7 pounds and gone from 15 reps at 225 pounds (NFL testing standard) to 25 reps.
Hard work pays off
In addition to the grueling workouts Ereck participated in over the summer at UM, Everald said he also drove to Coral Gables four nights a week to put his son through two extra hours worth of workouts a night. They lifted weights, did plyometrics and footwork training — all to get Ereck ready for fall camp and a shot at a starting job.
“He’s kind of put the Xbox aside, studies offensive linemen on video all day,” Everald said. “He made me take him down to Dolphins practice once or twice going into his senior year to study Jake Long. A good night for him is football, workout, studies and then sleep.”
Everald said although he’s thrilled his son will start against BC, the game the entire family has circled on the calendar takes place the following Saturday in Manhattan, Kan.. His mother’s family will make the hour drive west to be at the Kansas State game at Bill Snyder Stadium.
“He’s definitely different than that 6-year-old boy they remember. He’s a man,” Everald said. “I tell him all the time his mother said she would be at all his games. I know she’s looking down and is proud of him.