MISSOULA — Everyone knows how dangerous Malik Flowers can be when the ball is in his hands.
Ever since he stepped on campus as a freshman, Flowers has demonstrated his kick returning skills to be among the best in the Big Sky Conference and the FCS. But lately, Flowers has also seen an expanded role in the offense, a result of his hard work throughout his college football career that is finally paying off.
When Flowers returned the kickoff to open the second half to the house during Montana's 39-7 win over Cal Poly, it was his fourth as a Grizzly, which places him third all-time in conference history.
Flowers had limited kick returning experience in high school, but when he arrived at Montana in 2017, he saw an opportunity.
"Honestly I felt like it was kind of growing into the position," Flowers said. "It was more so where I was like that’s where I could kind of help the team, mostly when I first got here, so it was kind of like how can you help yourself or what can you bring to this special teams unit in order to help yourself get on the field so I just kind of took it to heart. I just kind of stayed in the film room or did whatever I could watching guys just to make sure when I got my chance I could help make those returns and everything in the special teams game."
But lately, his production on the offensive side of the ball has been the breakout part of his game.
Montana head coach Bobby Hauck and Flowers' teammates raved about him during fall camp, and against Western Illinois on Sept. 11, Flowers reaped the rewards with three catches for 100 yards and his first two touchdowns on offense.
"Just kind of kept my head down and kept working, and then when I got the opportunity, I just hoped that I could go out there and capitalize on it every time," Flowers said. "Just know that your time is coming, the hard work is eventually going to pay off and just try not to get discouraged honestly. Just keep your head down, keep working and good things are sure to come from it. I get a chance to help the team, especially a good team like ours so we go out there and do it every week and if I can contribute in any way, I'm more than happy to do that."
Flowers said a big part of improving on offense has been finding consistency and comfort at wide receiver. A high school quarterback until his senior year, Flowers took the time to grow at receiver in college. He said learning how to beat defenses but also to not second guess himself has been key to finding a rhythm at that position.
Fellow kick returner and wide receiver Gabe Sulser said for Flowers, it was only a matter of time.
"We all could see it, you know he was making big plays in spring ball and fall camp, building up to this obviously in the return game before this year he was real dominant in," Sulser said. "Now he’s doing it all so it’s awesome to see, it’s awesome to see that happen to a really good teammate and a guy that works really hard too. There's no better guy to learn from than Malik, especially at that. It's fun to watch him. Once he gets some open grass, that guy's gone."
It's been a simple strategy with Flowers: Get the ball in his hands, and watch him work.
On the season he's already got personal bests in catches (five), receiving yards (127) and touchdowns (two). His four kick returns for touchdowns are a school record and he ranks second in school history with 1,724 kick return yards. A redshirt junior, Flowers has plenty of time between 2021 and 2022 to completely rewrite those records.
His patience and hard work has continued to pay off, and it's about keeping that mentality as the season rolls on.
"All hard work will pay off but now it’s kind of like now you’re stepping into a new role in a sense so, you know, kind of just keep grinding like you did from when you were a kick returner," Flowers said. "You know it got you this far so that hard work and determination is definitely paying off so feel like it’s the same thing whether it’s on offense or special teams, just keep grinding and keep working and good things will come from it."