St. Mary’s Flowers enjoying breakout season – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

TJ Flowers is not one to try and make things too difficult when he’s on the football field.

That’s why when the St. Mary’s junior was posed the question of which phase of the game he likes the best, his answer was simple and straight to the point.

“Offense,” he said with a grin. “Definitely offense.”

The thing is, it hasn’t just been on offense where Flowers’ impact has been felt for the Crusaders this fall. Sure, it’s been as a receiver or running back where he’s displayed his unique skillset, but it’s also been on defense as a cornerback and most certainly as a kick returner come special teams time that Flowers has made his presence felt.

No matter where you look, Flowers has played a big role in the Crusaders’ 6-1 start heading into the latest edition of the Holy Bowl with top-ranked and Far West League co-leader Cascade Christian on Friday night at Lithia & Driveway Fields .

“He just does some exciting things when he gets the ball in his hands,” said St. Mary’s head coach Jamie Young, now in his 13th year at the helm. “He’s a very quiet kid, he doesn’t beat his own chest , he comes to practice and works hard every day and he’s a really talented young man.

“That competitive spirit, not everybody rises up to those occasions, but he’s a guy who definitely does.”

He’s a talented young man who likes making plays, too.

“I just like making plays with the ball,” said Flowers of why he enjoys being on offense so much. “I like having the ball in my hand and being in open space and being able to use my athleticism and what the coaches have taught me to make plays.”

Young doesn’t shy away from saying that 2022 has been a breakout season for the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Flowers, who started both ways for the Crusaders as a sophomore last year.

Flowers isn’t one to disagree with his head coach.

In fact, it’s the Crusaders’ coaching staff that he credits for it.

“I think part of that is I’ve gotten more playing time,” he said. “Another big part of it is that I’ve gotten a lot of help from our other players and coaches and training through the summer.”

Having a normal summer has been important for Flowers and just about every football player around the valley after the complete sense of uncertainty that 2021 provided.

It was a sense of normalcy again. And it allowed Flowers and the rest of the Crusaders to get their work in as they envisioned.

“We had a chance to get that work in over the summer,” said Young. “We had a chance to spend more time with our guys and development, put them in situations and see how they would respond to where we can look at what they’re capable of doing. I think it’s huge and I think it’s huge for the players, and certainly TJ as well. His confidence to have had that whereas at the beginning of his career it was a very unorthodox way of an installation process and very much not normal.”

The results are there for everybody to see, with that game-changing ability with the ball on display once again last Friday in the Crusaders’ 49-14 win over Brookings-Harbor.

In fact, you didn’t have to wait all that long to see it.

Flowers, an all-FWL selection as a kick returner last season, took the opening kickoff 80 yards for the touchdown to give his team the lead before a ball was even snapped.

True to form, that’s what Flowers wants to do every time he lines up to receive a kick — take it to the house.

“Oh yeah,” he said with a big grin. “Definitely. That’s definitely the goal for every kickoff return.”

There is one thing he has to do first, though.

“First, I’ve gotta make sure I catch the ball,” he said. “The one thing I need to keep in mind is not having tunnel vision, so I need to keep a good field of vision and find those holes that I can break through. And just follow my blocks.”

Entering Friday night’s game with Cascade Christian, Flowers has rushed 45 times for 285 yards and three touchdowns to go with seven receptions for 213 yards and four touchdowns.

Flowers also has an interception on defense this season.

Combined with senior receiver Jaden Foster, Flowers provides quarterback Tyson Delplanche — who hadn’t played under center until this season — with a pair of big-play threats at his disposal.

“We didn’t get to work together much last year or even my freshman year,” Flowers said of developing a rapport with Delplanche, “but since he’s stepped up to the role of quarterback this year, we’ve definitely had to learn together and become better teammates. Learning to do that has definitely benefited both of us and the rest of our teammates, too.”

The penultimate week of the regular season sees the Crusaders facing their toughest opponent to date in a Challengers team that has very much lived up to its lofty preseason ranking.

Cascade Christian (7-0, 7-0) leads all of Class 3A in scoring and has outscored its opponents 377-22 so far this season. The Challengers scored at least 48 points in their first six games of the season, and have allowed an opponent to hit double digits just once.

Cascade, which is 21-1 all-time against St. Mary’s, is currently tied for first place in the Far West League with fellow unbeaten South Umpqua (7-0, 7-0), which will face the Challengers next Friday night.

“They’re very well-coached and they have a very strong belief in their system and what they do,” Young said of the Challengers. “They’re well-disciplined and they’re very competitive. They believe they’re the best team in the state, and I think that’s one of their biggest strengths, if not their biggest. And they can back that up with the way they play.”

Flowers knows that keeping things level-headed will be a key against the Challengers.

“Last year, we were tied with them after the first half, so I think part of the reason we weren’t able to finish that game is because we got into our heads,” said Flowers. “Coming into this game, we need to have good mindsets, and that’s definitely one of the biggest parts to trying to beat Cascade.”

Having already surpassed their win total from 2021, and with their playoff credentials very much solidified with two regular season games to go, the Crusaders are feeling good about where things stand these days.

That doesn’t escape Flowers — no matter which side of the ball he’s on.

“This season has definitely meant a lot to not only me but the whole team because our history at St. Mary’s of going to the state playoffs isn’t lengthy,” said Flowers. “I think we’re the first team to have six wins in this short of time. It definitely means a lot to the team and to the St. Mary’s football team’s history.”

Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

St Mary’s TJ Flowers before practice at Lithia & Driveway Fields on Tuesday afternoon.[Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

St Mary’s TJ Flowers before practice at Lithia & Driveway Fields on Tuesday afternoon.[Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

St Mary’s TJ Flowers runs for a score during the 2nd quarter of the Crusaders’ win over Phoenix at Lithia & Driveway Fields in Medford. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

St Mary’s TJ Flowers runs for a score during the 2nd quarter of the Crusaders’ win over Phoenix at Lithia & Driveway Fields in Medford. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

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