Part of Clemson’s past and future intertwined at South Gwinnett High School in Snellville, Ga., on Friday night.
Former Tiger great Kenny Flowers sat in the stands at Richard Snell Stadium donning solid orange as he watched two future Tigers — Clemson commitments Darnell Jefferies (Newton High) and Justin Mascoll (South Gwinnett) — go head-to-head on the gridiron.
“I’m here because a friend of mine, her kids attend Newton High School,” Flowers told The Clemson Insider during our Tour of Champions stop at South Gwinnett to watch Jefferies and Mascoll. “I didn’t know that they were recruiting the young man (Jefferies) so heavily until I started coming to the games. But I’ve met his parents. Great people, and I’ve been watching him play every game so far this season. He’s an outstanding player. I think Clemson is getting a good player.”
Flowers, one of the best running backs in Clemson history from 1983-86, is now a father of three and works for the Alcon company as a project coordinator. His youngest son, Kenny Flowers Jr., played linebacker at Auburn from 2013-15 and was a member of the Auburn team that played in the 2014 BCS National Championship game against Florida State.
Now, Flowers is enjoying life as a fan of the game he loves and tries to stay involved in the sport as much as possible.
“I try to get to as many football games as I can,” he said. “I do try to talk to as many kids as I can. I’ve done a lot of that in the past, just trying to give them support, just trying to give them direction. I just like to see the kids do well.”
Flowers finished his Clemson career as the program’s all-time leading rusher. He currently ranks seventh on Clemson’s career rushing yards list with 2,914, while his total of 590 career carries ranks ninth in school history — marks that are even more impressive considering Clemson played only 12 games per season back then.
Flowers was an all-conference performer in 1985, when he ran for 1,200 yards on 227 attempts (5.3 average) with 13 touchdowns. It is currently the sixth-best individual season in Clemson history in terms of rushing yards. He recorded 100 or more yards rushing in five consecutive games that year, a Clemson record.
For his career, Flowers scored 26 touchdowns and averaged 4.9 yards per carry.
“We had a lot of talent back then, a lot of talent back then,” Flowers said. “I came in a year late. They won the national championship the year before I came there, but we had some tremendous seasons. It was a lot of fun playing down there in Death Valley.”
Playing under legendary head coach Danny Ford, Flowers helped the Tigers compile a record of 30-13-3 during his career. As a junior, he was named MVP of the 1985 Independence Bowl.
Flowers will never forget what it was like to play for Ford, who made sure his teams were physically prepared to play.
“It was great,” Flowers said. “I tell people all the time, we were the toughest team that was going to be on that field because he had that old-school mentality, where we’re going to outwork you, we’re going to out-physical you to death, so we were ready.”
It has been a couple of decades since Flowers last suited up for the Tigers, but his passion for Clemson runs as deep as ever. He tries to attend at least a couple of games in Death Valley each season, and when he’s not there, he’s watching from somewhere.
“I’m definitely a Tiger till I die,” he said. “I’m watching them. I’m sure proud of those guys, the way Coach Swinney has those guys playing.”
Flowers is a big fan of the way Swinney runs his program and the job he has done since taking over as Clemson’s coach.
The former Tiger standout felt a sense of pride seeing Clemson win the national title last season, and like Swinney, he believes the best is yet to come.
“It was amazing. I was just so proud, not only of the football team but the university in general, to be on such a stage,” Flowers said of the 2016 national champions. “With coach Swinney, I’ve met him a couple times. It’s more than just being a football player. He’s developing young men, and that’s what I’m all about and that’s what I like seeing. Great character on that team. These guys are flying around and they’re having a good time, and I’m just so proud of them.
“We’re going to see what happens this year, but I’m looking forward to being back in that same place again this year. But we’re going to take one game at a time.”