Recorder file photo Amsterdam's Mike Flowers breaks a run past Bishop Maginn's Matthias McKinnon during their 2010 game.
Recorder file photo The crowd watches as Amsterdam's Mike Flowers leads the pack as he competes in the 100-meter dash during a 2011 track meet against La Salle and Catholic Central.
By PAUL ANTONELLI
When Michael Flowers left the hallways of Amsterdam High School in June 2011, he departed with a reputation as an extremely talented athlete, having excelled in both football and track and field, and as someone who was developing into a leader both on and off the playing field.
His leadership skills were on display as recently as last month when he guided the Amsterdam Finest AAU ninth-grade basketball team in an appearance in the Valley Classic tournament in St. Johnsville.
People called him "Deuce" and it was a nickname that he cherished and carried with pride -- wearing number 22 throughout his prolific football career at Amsterdam.
But today, family, friends, and his players, are making preparations to say goodbye to the 21-year-old former high school star athlete who died on Sunday.
According to authorities, Flowers drowned while swimming in the Mohawk River. His body was recovered by the St. Johnsville Fire Department Water Rescue and Dive Team at the bottom of the river in about 35 feet of water. He was identified as the victim by the Little Falls Police Department.
"This is all very tragic," said Amsterdam High School Principal David Ziskin. "I coached his younger brother in Amsterdam Little Giants. Michael was a nice kid from a great family."
Flowers, a student at Herkimer County Community College, first got into coaching while a student at AHS. He initially coached fifth-graders before taking his philosophy to higher levels, including his most recent stint as a ninth-grade AAU coach.
"When the kids heard that Michael Flowers would be coaching them, their eyes just lit up," said Amsterdam Finest AAU director Michael Tyrone Hanna, whose wife Kiaso Violet Walker is Flowers' grandmother. "His practices were intense and the kids respected him so much. He had that star power and was a hero to all kids, and will be missed by them all. We're all in shock."
Walker was always the proud grandmother, attending nearly all of Flowers' events on the Lynch Literacy Academy turf and the running track at Amsterdam High School -- with camera in tow.
"We will always be very proud of Michael," Walker said. "He achieved a lot. He was our backbone, our strength. He held the whole family down. His younger family members always looked up to him and wanted to be just like him, along with all the younger kids here in Amsterdam."
One family member who was captivated by Flowers' presence is younger cousin Tysean Hanna.
"Michael was my role model, my protector, my Superman," Tysean said. "He did everything for me and I did everything for him. I think about him every night. I just lay in my bed thinking he's gonna come home. I will forever keep Michael in my heart."
On the gridiron, Flowers was a 1,000-yard rusher on the 2010 Amsterdam football team that went 7-2, rebounding from a 2-6 year in 2009. He was a three-year varsity contributor who became the team's feature back in his senior year.
"I was on my way to pick up my kid [Nick Liverio] out at Hobart, and we got a call and they gave us the information," said Pat Liverio, who coached Flowers on the varsity football level for three seasons. "It was a sad day, all the way around.
"He was always looking to go somewhere, school-wise," continued Liverio. "Even these last couple years he was in school, I'd always see him up there getting transcripts, looking to move on, and trying to better himself. I know he wanted to go to a four-year school and was always looking to go somewhere where he could play ball or run track. He was never really satisfied where he was. He was always trying to better himself, move on and get into a bigger and better situation."
In 2010, Flowers rushed for 146 yards in a season-opening win against Mohonasen and followed with a career-high 207-yard rushing performance against Glens Falls. He opened the second half, scoring on an 80-yard run.
"I told Michael that he was going to get a toss and for him to run," recalled then-Amsterdam offensive coordinator Bob Noto. "He got the ball and took off. He had great breakaway speed."
Liverio remembers that game well and added that Flowers was an integral part in keeping the Amsterdam football tradition alive after a difficult 2009 season.
"It's a terrible thing for the football program itself," Liverio said. "I've run into a lot of people, just since yesterday afternoon, that were involved with the program -- whether it was coaches, ex-players, even guys like Mike Altieri and Rich Altieri that you see around Amsterdam. He's an Amsterdam guy. He's part of the family. Even though they played several years before him, it still affects those people. It's one big family, and everybody takes it to heart."
On the track, Flowers was the first AHS athlete in decades to do well at the prestigious Eddy Meet. He also was a top finisher at sectionals, and made it to the 2011 state championships in the 200-meter dash.
He was instrumental in reviving Amsterdam's track and field team, helping with recruiting and being responsible for bringing fellow star athlete Matt White into the fold. White went on to a second-place finish in the pentathlon at the 2012 state championships.
"He (Flowers) was the first kid that really got a lot of recognition for us," said Amsterdam boys track and field coach Kevin Wilary. "After we got Mike, the athletes followed.
"Mike Flowers was the influential kid that got our program to where it is today," Wilary added. "These kids on the team now knew him -- knew about him -- because he was the guy they all looked up to."
MICHAEL KELLY and ADAM SHINDER contributed to this report.