MISSOULA — Malik Flowers entered the 2022 season needing just 86 yards to become Montana's all-time kick return yards leader.
Problem is, no one kicks to him anymore.
So, Flowers finds other ways to keep himself busy on special teams.
"Probably get used to the junk stuff and communicate more with the guys up front," Flowers said. "Because if I'm not going to get a deep kick, I know they've been giving us junk stuff with the squib kicks, the pop overs, so just communicating, giving the calls up front to let them know when to get it if it's rolling too slow or just communicating with the off returner if they got to get the ball as well.
"Blocking, communicating and just being there to back up anyone if the ball does come flying through the hole and they can't get to it, I can be there as a safety net."
In a way, it's a compliment to Flowers' career at Montana that teams stopped kicking his way.
He's been a threat in the kicking game since he stepped on campus at UM, and he holds the school record with five touchdowns, good for third all-time in FCS history.
But against Idaho, Flowers finally got a kick he could return, and he broke Rob Schulte's career yards record of 2,129, in what was a special moment for the senior. Flowers currently sits at 2,238 kick return yards in his career, and has fielded just seven kickoffs this season because of teams avoiding him.
"Honestly, just a surreal feeling just to know that after all the returns and stuff my name will kind of go down in history a little bit," Flowers said. "And just kudos to all of the guys that were leading me through the years because I couldn't do it by myself, but it's nice to accomplish that, so I felt good about myself. It was nice to actually get a return for once and not have them kick it away from me so it was pretty nice to get the ball in my hands and move around a little bit."
A quarterback in high school, Flowers' ability to embrace special teams got him on the field right away when he arrived at Montana where he's made the most of his opportunity.
"I think it really helped me in a way because I felt like if I would've had a different attitude toward it, it would've definitely hindered me from being able to do what I have in special teams so I'm glad that I had that good head on my shoulders," Flowers said. "I was like Malik, just attack it a day at a time, do it as well as you can to the best of your abilities and just have a good attitude towards it and it's definitely paid off so I'm happy that I stuck with it and went as hard as I did with it.
"It was definitely just getting in and helping anyway I can to get on the field. When I first came in it was just getting used to the system, building up that confidence to get out there and make those plays consistently, so special teams is like a stepping stone just for me to get on the field and help the team in any way I can, so when it came to blocking a kick or going down there and fielding someone on punt return, getting some tackles, it was just nice to be on the field so I was like if you're going to be out there, try and make a play in any way you can, it's no sense to be dwelling on what you can't be doing right now just make the most of the opportunity that you do have."
Last year Flowers began to see an expanded role on offense as well, and he's carried that all over to his senior year. This year he's caught career-highs in passes (16) and receiving yards (233) to go with one score.
But for a kid who moved to the Treasure State from California to give college football a shot, Flowers has stepped up whenever called upon in whatever role, and embraced his time in Missoula with the Grizzlies.
"So when I first got here it was kind of a culture shock a little, but once I got used to the people, got used to the cold, it's been good to me," Flowers said. "I love the summers, I love experiencing every season out here, the fans are amazing. It's a great place to live and there's so much to do out here aside from football. So when I'm not playing football it's just a nice place to be around and the people are great too, so definitely coming from Cali to Missoula I've loved it, my experience here has been great.
"Of course there's been ups and downs but you just take it on the chin for what it is and I wouldn't change it, it's been good."