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UNM football returns to practice

UNM team captains, from left, Alex Hart, Trent Sellers, Aaron Blackwell and Kyle Stapley, talked Sunday about the effect the passing of Nahje Flowers has had on the team. GREG SORBER/JOURNAL

University of New Mexico football coach Bob Davie, in his first comments since the unexpected death of 21-year-old defensive lineman Nahje Flowers, clung to the “brotherhood” shown on his team, what he described as a light amid the darkness of a tragedy.

Davie spoke to the media on Sunday night after practice. The Lobos had the day off on Saturday, when originally they had been scheduled to play against Air Force. The game was moved to Nov. 23 due to Flowers’ death that occurred Tuesday morning.

“We all know there should be many, many more chapters to Nahje’s story,” Davie said. “But with that said you see young men deal with adversity, deal with tragedy and become men. It’s sad, but it’s what life is and how you respond to things and how you respond to adversity is part of the growing experience. But there’s no question it’s an absolute, absolute tragedy.”

Davie would not disclose Flowers’ cause of death. There were no signs of foul play or criminal activity, Albuquerque Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said on Tuesday.

Flowers was due in court on Tuesday for allegedly keying a car of an “ex-friend,” according to a criminal complaint.

Davie was asked if the mental health services available to UNM student-athletes are adequate.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Davie said. “Everybody did their best.”

UNM also made the Lobos’ four team captains – Alex Hart, Trent Sellers, Aaron Blackwell and Kyle Stapley – available to the media.

The Lobos are preparing for their game at Boise State on Saturday. The captains told Davie earlier in the week and reiterated on Sunday that it was important for the team to remain together and get back into a routine of practice and preparation for the next game.

“Football is so much a part of our lives you get to a point where you need it,” Sellers said. “When something like that happens, to take time away and reflect is good but to get back into the routine a little bit makes you feel a little normal in a situation that no one could imagine. There’s no right way or wrong way. It gives you some type of normal feeling when you come out here and practice.”

Sellers, a defensive lineman who missed last season with a knee injury, said he was grateful for the bond he shares with his teammates who have helped each other during a difficult time. Sellers, who began his college career at Georgia Tech, lost a friend and former teammate, Brandon Adams, to a tragic death in March. Adams died after he collapsed and hit his head while he was step dancing, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

Each of the team captains expressed that losing Flowers was like losing a brother.

Hart said that when Flowers smiled, everyone smiled.

“He was and still is an integral part of this whole operation because of who he was and what he was,” Davie said. “The combination of that smile he had, with that nose ring he had, with the different color hair he had at times, he was a character. He was a character in the most positive of ways. … It’s an absolutely devastating blow. Obviously for his family, but for all of us, everyone around him.”

The Lobos held a memorial for Flowers Friday afternoon at the Tow Diehm practice facility and did not practice that day.

The team captains said they are taking the grieving process one day at a time and working toward being ready for Boise State on Saturday.

“It’s gone from people being completely broken to people rallying around each other,” said Blackwell, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during the season-opener. “We’re at the point now where people can start to rebuild. Practice was really good today.”

Davie gave an example of the bond on the UNM football team, saying that when Flowers died his family immediately reached out to some of the teammates that were close to him.

“That’s what’s so difficult about this,” Davie said. “It’s a difficult thing to have someone taken away and just so many emotions with 110 players that knew him as a brother, that knew him from a distance and some who just got to know him. He was a strong personality that he resonated with everybody. Always smiling.”

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