FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers will never forget his last trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium. It was the best performance of his college career.
Then a sophomore, Flowers returned to his home state, teamed with Chris Smith and put on a show in front of family and friends. He dominated Auburn’s offensive line, collected 3 ½ sacks and was one of the stars of Arkansas’ 24-7 win.
“It’s amazing when you can kind of take over the game,” Flowers said.
Arkansas would welcome similar results Saturday, when the Razorbacks open the season at sixth-ranked Auburn. Two years after the impressive effort, Flowers is back as a preseason first-team All-SEC selection and Arkansas’ defensive leader.
There’s no way Flowers will sneak up on the Tigers when he steps on the field for the final game in his home state. But he’s not hiding. Flowers said he wants to do whatever is needed against Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s offense to help Arkansas collect its first SEC road win since that trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium two years ago.
“We know it’s a whole different team,” Flowers said. “Obviously they’ve got more confidence than they had two years ago. They’ve got a new offense. We know we’re going to get a whole new team so we’ve got a whole different mindset.”
Flowers will have help competing against a home state school. He’s one of three players from Alabama that will start along Arkansas’ defensive front. Flowers is from Huntsville, while defensive tackle Darius Philon and defensive end JaMichael Winston played high school football together at Mobile’s Vigor High.
“It’s in Alabama, but at the same time I am playing for Arkansas,” Philon said. “It’s a competition so I will go down there just like I play anybody else. I’ve got a lot of people coming to see me play and I hope to give them everything they like.”
If there’s anyone that understands the trio’s motivation, it’s defensive line coach Rory Segrest. Even he has Alabama ties. Segrest played for Alabama in the 1990s, began his coaching career as a student assistant with the Crimson Tide and even spent two years as a graduate assistant at Auburn.
So Segrest understands how important Saturday’s game is for his group.
“I think they’re ready to go,” Segrest said about his Alabama Razorbacks. “It’s a lot of excitement, first of all because it’s the first game of the year. Second of all, it’s an SEC opponent, and then third, it is in the state where they’re from. All those factors combined, they’re excited for it and ready to see what they can do.”
Arkansas knows what Flowers is capable of accomplishing after collecting 122 tackles, 32 tackles for losses and 12 sacks in his career. He enters the 2014 season 11th on the school’s tackles for losses chart and is tied for 16th in sacks.
Coach Bret Bielema described Flowers as the program’s most important recruit last winter. Flowers could’ve entered the 2014 NFL Draft as a junior and would’ve been selected somewhere in the seven-round process. But after discussions with Bielema, Flowers decided to return to school for his senior season.
Bielema said the coaches are “blessed” to have Flowers back to build around.
“He’s a man that walks the walk every day,” Bielema said. “He’s a young man – from the first time I met him over a year in a half ago to where we are today and the things that he does on a daily basis — that has just amazed me and my staff. He’s a great football player that has grown to a 6-foot-4, 275-pound kid that when we got here was under 250 and was a real, raw, rangy guy. He’s incredibly strong – what I call country strong — where he is able to hold his gap and hold his integrity.”
Bielema said Flowers’ impact has been felt off the field, too.
The senior, who was named a team captain earlier this summer, spoke to the team as game week began. Bielema said it “struck a chord” with players and coaches.
“It was really about preparation,” Flowers said. “Pretty much refusing to lose and doing everything, whether it’s football, school, walking down the street, chewing bubble gum, do everything like a champion. You train your mind to win, it won’t let you lose at anything. Continue in every aspect of your life, just do your best.”
Flowers will do his part as he leads Arkansas’ defense at Auburn.
He’ll play in front of a plenty of family once again, securing roughly 60 tickets this week. Flowers would love nothing more than to have a repeat performance against the Tigers during his second game in Jordan-Hare Stadium. But there’s one thing he covets more as he begins his final season in college football: a win.
“I’m not really trying to, you know, replay that game,” Flowers said. “We just really want to get the win. It’s all about the win. Even if I had 3 1/2 sacks to get the win or only 3 1/2 tackles to get the win. As long as we get the W, the stats don’t bother me.”