Taariq Flowers always listens respectfully, but only he knows what it’s been like on the football field.
“Run between the tackles! Stop dancing! Find the hole,” coaches often shout at the Del Sol running back.
The 5-foot-9-inch, 185-pound Flowers isn’t one to argue with his superiors, but for the past three varsity seasons those holes haven’t always been easy to find behind an undersized offensive line and predictable playbook — one that simply called for handing the ball to the team’s best player.
“The outside is always open,” said Flowers, grinning. “Just got to beat the (defensive) end.”
With a knack for shaking defenders, bouncing to the outside and breaking would-be tackles in a split second, Flowers has solidified himself as one of the top players in Class 3A, and this season he’ll be looking to keep the momentum going under first-year coach Mike Valenzuela.
“We’re excited we have him on our side of the ball,” said Valenzuela, who has coached in the Clark County School District for more than 11 years. “Talent-wise, he’s the most talented back I’ve coached. He’s got that blend of speed and power.”
Flowers, who led the Dragons to a 4-6 record and their first playoff appearance since 2010 last season, ranks ninth in the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association record book with 2,451 career rushing yards for Class 3A.
After finishing with 1,282 yards and 10 touchdowns on 178 carries (7.2 yards per carry) as a junior, he’s expected to finish in the top five in career yards at the end of the season.
Mojave will get the first taste of Flowers this season when the Rattlers host Del Sol in the season opener at 7 p.m. Friday.
“He loves the game, he’s athletic and he makes it look easy,” Valenzuela said. “He’s an elite athlete. Everybody looks across our line and has to account for him.”
And teams do — albeit, rather unsuccessfully.
Flowers is that one player who jumps off film during preparation week, the guy teams game plan for and the one whose name and number are constantly heard over the public address system each Friday night.
“I believe I’m the best running back in town,” said Flowers, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. “I got heart, and I work hard every day to get to my limit. … I’m trying to beat the yards from last year. Trying to get a 1,000-plus and take us to state.”
With a bigger line and perhaps a more competitive team, Flowers should have more running room this season.
Valenzuela also said he’s making a point to give Flowers’ younger brother — sophomore quarterback Maalik — some opportunities to open up the offense and take the pressure off the run game.
But even without much of a passing attack in the past, Taariq managed to rack up huge games. As a freshman, he rushed for 329 yards and six touchdowns in a win over Rancho, and last season he ran for 290 yards and three scores in a win over Boulder City.
It’s been games like that which have brought referees and opposing coaches to the Del Sol sideline after games just to praise Taariq.
The only thing missing for the standout: a college scholarship.
“We’re going to work on it,” Taariq said. “We’re working, getting the film out there.“
Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0430. Follow @af_ferguson on Twitter.
RJ’s preseason Class 3A rankings
1. Desert Pines
2. Virgin Valley
3. Moapa Valley
5. Del Sol