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Growing up with 13 siblings helped propel Boston College’s Zay Flowers to be the best

‘When I was 4, I would be in the front yard with full football pads on playing with my brothers’

After dealing with an early-season leg injury, Boston College wide receiver Xavien “Zay” Flowers is back, ready to help lead the 6-5 Eagles against No. 21 Wake Forest on Saturday. Going into the regular-season finale, he is the Eagles’ top receiver with 43 catches for 745 yards and five touchdowns.

Flowers, who went from a three-star recruit to becoming one of college football’s top wide receivers, got his competitive spirit growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As the fourth-youngest of 14 children, everything was a friendly competition among Flowers and his siblings.

“It was competitive every day [in my household]. Every day, we fought to be better at everything. In our house, we had fun with the people we love,” Flowers told The Undefeated. “When I was 4, I would be in the front yard with full football pads on playing with my brothers. We would try to run each other over and juke each other out all the time.”

From the front yard to Alumni Stadium in Boston, Flowers’ competitive spirit and love for football fueled him to become one of Boston College’s most productive wideouts in school history. He was just the second Boston College wide receiver to be named first-team All-ACC last season with 56 receptions for 892 yards and nine touchdowns.

“Coming into [my sophomore] season, I had a goal to be one of the best receivers in the ACC, and work showed throughout the whole year. So, I wasn’t surprised. I knew I was going to do. I was just waiting for my time to come,” said Flowers.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior grew up in a five-bedroom house with his nine brothers and four sisters. In their household, it was about being the best Flowers in the family. The friendly rivalry among them was the true competition for Flowers, whether it was sports, cooking or who dressed the best. Just like Flowers, several of his brothers played and loved football. In each high school game at University School, he was trying to prove to his family why he was the best player in the house.

“The only challenge was that we were trying to show who was the best [Flowers] out of the family. We would argue about who was the best one out of all of us and it made fun growing up,” said Flowers.

Flowers, who played both wide receiver and defensive back at University School, helped lead the Sharks to back-to-back Florida Class 4A state semifinal appearances as a junior and senior.

Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers (center) runs after a catch during the first half of an NCAA college football game vs. Duke on Sept. 19, 2020, in Durham, North Carolina.

Nell Redmond/Pool Photo via AP

Those skills and that in-home rivalry helped Flowers gain multiple offers to play college football and gave him the opportunity to become the first person in his family to graduate from college. Getting a good education was something that Flowers’ father Willie wanted most for him.

Flowers’ mother, Jackie Walden, died from a head injury in 2005 when he was 5 years old. The family then looked to their father as the leader and provider. Flowers said he admired his father as his role model for the hard work and sacrifices he made for the family.

“We didn’t complain about what we had and didn’t have. We understood [our living situation]. Every day my dad worked hard to provide for us,” said Flowers. “On the weekends, which were his days off, he was still taking us to football games, getting up early to make us breakfast, washing clothes at the laundromat at 3 in the morning, and grocery shopping for all 14 of us. He taught me what hard work is. He always kept me motivated.”

That work ethic is an embodiment of his family, and fans see that each time he plays for Boston College. He wears the No. 4 as a reminder that he is four out of his 14 siblings. Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley has said of Flowers that his versatility is what makes him such an outstanding player.

“Boston is the complete opposite of Florida, but I wanted to go somewhere different to kind of start my own thing and play football. My dad wanted me to go somewhere to get a good education. I wanted to get a degree for my family and to be the first to graduate from college as well. So, I came to Boston,” said Flowers.

For Flowers, it’s all about earning his bachelor’s degree in communications, reaching his highest potential as a football player and representing his family well.

“Family means everything to me. That’s all I got. That’s who I do it for,” said Flowers. “They are the reason why I keep going every day.”

And what about the NFL?

“It’s exciting, but at the same time, it’s scary, because you want to make the right decision. People like Antonio Brown [who] reach out through social media has helped me stay motivated, humble and keep working hard,” said Flowers.

Keion Cage, a native of Houston, Texas, is a strategic communications student with a minor in leadership studies. He currently serves as the associate editor for The Hampton Script, a student-run newspaper. Cage has written for SLAM Magazine and VYPE Media – a regional high school and youth sports platform.