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Unexpected death of football player shocks, saddens UNM

 University of New Mexico football player Nahje Flowers joins Isabella Montoya and other students at San Felipe de Neri Catholic School in April 2018. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

University of New Mexico football player Nahje Flowers joins Isabella Montoya and other students at San Felipe de Neri Catholic School in April 2018. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

An outpouring of poignant, loving memories and goodbyes were posted onto social media Tuesday for 21-year-old University of New Mexico defensive lineman Nahje Flowers, who died unexpectedly.

No details were given concerning his death, but the University of New Mexico announced his passing Tuesday morning after Coach Bob Davie met with the team at 7:30 a.m.

Flowers, a 6-foot-3, 278-pound redshirt junior who started for the Lobos at nose tackle, was at practice Monday morning, said Frank Mercogliano, UNM assistant athletic director for communications. Flowers lived off campus, he said.

According to Gilbert Gallegos, an Albuquerque Police Department spokesman, “We are investigating, but there are no signs of foul play or criminal activity.” Gallegos said he did not know where Flowers died.

Tuesday’s football practice was canceled, as well as the usual media availability for players and coaches, including coach Bob Davie’s news conference.

Davie released a statement in the morning, as did UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez.

“Our entire football team and everyone who knew Nahje are devastated by this loss,” Davie said in the statement. “Nahje was a wonderful person and great teammate. Our entire Lobo Football family mourns his passing, and our prayers go out to his family.”

In high school, Flowers was a three-sport athlete, lettering in football, wrestling, and track and field as a thrower at Los Angeles’ Dorsey High School, where he graduated in 2016. He was redshirted his freshman year at UNM, in the 2016 season.

An audio recording of Flowers’ voice was still on the team roster at as of Tuesday afternoon. In the audio, Flowers pronounces his first name: “Nah-jee.”

Several of his teammates took to social media after his death.

UNM defensive lineman Adebayo Soremekun posted on Twitter, along with photos: “7 years of my life I have known you and you been there for me the whole way. No feeling can describe how I’m feeling. We just had plans about this weekend and all man I just talked to you yesterday. Thank you for all the laughs and love man. I Miss you already brother,”.

Elijah Lilly, a UNM wide receiver, also posted about Flowers on Twitter: “Idk how to feel. Words can’t describe how I feel right now. I just lost my bestfriend. I’m heartbroken man.”

And later: “All the memories we had. All the late night drives. Every time I went out, I was with you. All the battles we been through. I’ll never forget you. I love you bro. This can’t be real.”

UNM football’s Twitter account also posted photos of Flowers, along with the message: “We will miss you more than you can possibly imagine. Love you Nahje.”

Irvin Davis, a social studies teacher at Dorsey High School for the past 29 years who also did stints as head coach and assistant for the football team, was saddened to hear the tragic news about his former player. Davis was the football team’s head coach at Dorsey during Flowers’ senior year.

“He was a very, very positive young man to work with,” Davis said in a telephone interview. “My experience with him was really rewarding and outstanding. My condolences go out to his mother and family.”

Davis said he was notified of Flowers’ death Tuesday morning by a fellow assistant coach on the Dorsey staff.

Davis said that when he spoke with Flowers about a year ago, “he was adjusting to his experience and finding his way as a young man and college student.”

“Every interaction I had with him and his family was positive,” Davis said. “He was a good student and had good character.”

Davis said he was aware when Flowers made his decision to play for UNM out of Dorsey.

“He had a couple of options and felt comfortable with the situation there and wanted to make the best of it,” Davis said. “I had him in the classroom, too. I have nothing but positive memories of him.”

Flowers was a versatile player on the defensive line. He was capable of playing end and tackle in addition to nose tackle. He had three tackles, one solo, for the Lobos on Saturday at Nevada.

UNM (2-7) is on a six-game losing streak in a tumultuous season that began with Davie’s health scare in the season opener. He didn’t offer specifics of what ailed him, but he was out for three weeks.

More recently, quarterback Sheriron Jones was accused of indecent exposure and suspended. He had started three games this season.

“Earlier this morning I was made aware of the tragedy involving one of our student-athletes Nahje Flowers,” Nuñez said in a statement. “Coach Davie and members of the staff met with the team around 7:30. Grief counselors, members of our medical team and a psychologist are being made available. These services will be available to the team and staff for as long as needed. Our focus right now is on the well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and staff and the support needed. Nahje was an incredible young man. Our entire Lobo Football family mourns his passing, and our prayers go out to his family.”

The Lobos are scheduled to play Air Force at noon Saturday in Dreamstyle Stadium.

Journal reporter Elise Kaplan contributed to this story.


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