College Sports

Wide receiver Zay Flowers gives Boston College a powerful positive charge

Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Zay Flowers (left) is coming off an All-ACC season in which he had 56 catches for 892 yards and 9 touchdowns.


Midway through Boston College Football Media Day Monday, with his teammates scattered throughout Fish Field House, Zay Flowers approached quarterback Phil Jurkovec with a recording device in hand.

The wide receiver, who bounced around all afternoon, leaned toward Jurkovec and asked him a thought-provoking question: “What do you have in your heart from this camp that you feel like you need to get out?”

Flowers tried to keep a poker face before his signature smile inevitably appeared.

Jurkovec shrugged, grinned, and said it was more a question for teammate Brandon Sebastian.

“But I’m asking you the question,” Flowers persisted.

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Flowers, a junior and a preseason all-ACC first-team selection who has a strong chance to be the first Eagles wide receiver drafted since 1987, is always one to maximize the situation in front of him. He was an all-ACC first-teamer last year, just the second BC wide receiver to earn that honor, and it’s likely his best is yet to come.

Once a three-star recruit who didn’t receive a steady stream of offers until his junior year at University School in Florida, the 5-foot-10-inch, 177-pounder has blossomed into one of the most explosive receivers in the country. His optimism, positive energy, and charisma are contagious, and he constantly inspires those around him.

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“He always has a smile from ear to ear,” wide receivers coach Joe Dailey said. “Rarely do you catch him in a bad moment. If he ever does get in a bad moment, it doesn’t take him very long to snap out of it.”

Keeping family in mind

Flowers is one of 14 siblings, including 10 brothers, and he cherishes family gatherings more than anything.

His mother, Jackie Walden, died in 2005, before she got the chance to watch Flowers play football. Though she’s been gone most of his life, she’s still an integral part of the man he’s become.

“I just want to make my family proud, to be honest,” Flowers said. “That’s one of the reasons I keep a smile on my face. I don’t want to let it bring me down. I just keep a smile on, and keep going, because I know that’s what she’d want me to do.

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“She didn’t really get to experience me, but I’m pretty sure she’s watching me from above.”

His brother Martin, who he proudly says was the best athlete in the family, died in 2017.

The losses have brought him even closer to his family. His father, Willie, sends him motivational texts before every game and has inspired him to be great ever since he was a kid.

Flowers picked up football at age 4, and it wasn’t long before his brothers took him to the front yard to go through the agility ladder. They often played a game called “Murder-Ball,” where one person gets the ball and everyone else tries to tackle them. He was always on the smaller side, so he relied on his shiftiness and agility to avoid getting pummeled.

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“That’s where I really learned how to move,” Flowers said.

When University School coach Daniel Luque met Flowers, he was amazed by how often the eighth-grader was on the move.

“He was like the Energizer Bunny,” Luque said. “He never stopped doing things.”

Luque remembers one time when Flowers was on the bike before a game and cut himself badly. A trainer had to tape him up as he bled profusely. Moments later, Flowers was on the field ready to play, as if nothing had happened.

Luque, who said Flowers has the “heart of a lion,” coined the nickname “Zay-BAE,” to incorporate both the many admirers that flocked his way and the moniker “Best Athlete Ever.”

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“He went from not liking it to loving it,” Luque said with a laugh. “If you ever see a ‘Zay-BAE’ on there on one of those fan pages, you know where it comes from. He was always a ladies man, but he didn’t allow that to dictate anything. He really focused on football.”

Transformative time

Flowers entered freshman year on varsity as a peppy and persistent 125-pound running back. He gained 20 pounds before his 10th grade season, but injuries and playing on a stacked team made it harder to get his name out there.

Flowers stayed optimistic, and underwent what Luque called “quite a transformation.”

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He dazzled as a junior running back and defensive back, added receiver to his repertoire as a senior, and eventually received offers from 21 Division 1 schools, including Nebraska, Purdue, and Kentucky. Flowers credited family friend Jeremy Alters for encouraging him to stay patient.

“I always knew my time was going to come,” Flowers said. “It was just a matter of when, to be honest. When it came, it wasn’t a surprise to me, because I always worked for it.”

When BC reached out to Flowers, the consensus was that he’d start out at defensive back but could potentially play elsewhere. On Day 1 of his freshman year, he switched to wide receiver permanently, a decision he called the best he’s ever made.

Flowers was excited about the BC education, the city, and the chance to contribute right away. He mastered the jet sweep in Year 1, but he knew he was capable of much more.

When coach Jeff Hafley and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti took over last year, Flowers erupted for 56 catches (second on the team), 892 yards receiving (second in the ACC), and nine touchdown receptions (second in BC single-season history).

On one dizzying play against Duke, the Eagles called a corner post and Flowers tricked his defender and got more open than Cignetti could have imagined. No one was within 10 yards of him, and he waltzed into the end zone.

“When I saw him run that double move, and separate across the field, wow, man,” Cignetti said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone that wide open before. It was impressive.

“He’s just such a great kid to be around. His positive energy, that ‘it factor,’ he just makes everyone around him better.”

This preseason, Flowers has embraced mentoring freshman receiver Jaden Williams, whom Dailey called “another Zay.” Dailey said Flowers’s attention to detail has improved considerably throughout his career, and he’s confident Flowers will make even more “competitive catches” this year.

As much success as he had last season, Flowers isn’t one to get complacent.

His not-so-quiet confidence and bravado are well-received by his teammates. When debating with Jurkovec about who would win in a hypothetical one-on-one basketball game, Flowers said he would spot Jurkovec 5 points. “He’s scared to play me,” Flowers chirped.

Flowers also takes pride in the fact that he successfully surfed the second-longest wave in the world in Peru. He said he picked up juggling in two days as a way to help with his coordination, and he holds his own at the golf driving range.

Flowers never limits himself, and he isn’t afraid of expectations as he helps anchor an offense he believes will be one of the most explosive BC has ever seen.

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