The fact that Oak Park and River Forest High School alums Dallis Flowers and Jared Scott are in National Football League training camps this week — Flowers with the Indianapolis Colts, Scott with the Carolina Panthers — is newsworthy in itself.
What makes this special is the uncommon path that each took to get to the NFL. Both Flowers and Scott attended multiple colleges, achieving success in their final stops.
While they still need to make the 53-man NFL rosters, theirs is a true underdog story of overcoming the odds just to get to this point. They say it’s been worth the journey.
“The route I took, a lot of people wouldn’t be able to handle it,” said Flowers. “I’m not here by mistake; I definitely belong in this league. I’m still growing as a player and a person and feel like I’m only getting better.”
“I hope everyone sees the end result. Most think the success story is overnight, but it took a lot of hard work and staying in it mentally,” added Scott. “It was a road less traveled, and some may say it was harder than it needed to be. But my path is my path, and it makes me who I am today.”
After graduating from OPRF in 2015, Flowers redshirted his freshman year at Robert Morris University (now Roosevelt University), a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) institution in Schaumburg. He played football and basketball with the Eagles the next two seasons and then, after a semester at NCAA Division II Tiffin University in Ohio, he made his way to Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa in 2019 and became a two-time NAIA All-American defensive back with the Vikings.
Flowers, who stands 6-feet-1, feels his basketball background greatly helped him in football.
“The footwork and anticipation on the court helped me on the field,” he said. “I used those skills to high-point and intercept passes.”
After graduating from Grand View, Flowers enrolled at Pittsburg State University, one of Division II’s top programs, and made the 2021 Mid-America Intercollegiate Association All-Conference team. He led the Gorillas with four interceptions and amassed 573 yards on 17 kickoff returns, including two touchdowns on game-opening kickoffs (95 yards and 98 yards). His kickoff return average was 33.7 yards, setting a school record.
What was more exciting, intercepting a pass or returning a kick for a touchdown? Flowers said the latter. He patterns his return technique after former Chicago Bears’ great Devin Hester, who holds the NFL record for kick return touchdowns with 20.
“It’s not common to return kicks for touchdowns, no matter the level,” he explained. “Kick returning is a special skill set that’s hard to do, and you’ve got to be talented to take kicks 95 or 100 yards for scores when you got 11 guys bearing down on you.”
Flowers’ final season led to an invite to the East-West Shrine Game, a premier offseason showcase event for draft-eligible players.
“That experience went pretty well,” Flowers said. “Playing on the big stage with all the top players in the country and hanging out with NFL coaches and staff was a blessing.”
When the 2022 NFL Draft took place in April, a few draft boards had Flowers going in the late rounds, but it didn’t happen. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t interest; in fact, it was the opposite.
“I started getting calls from clubs during the fifth round,” Flowers said. “After the draft, it came down to the (Arizona) Cardinals, (New York) Giants, and Colts, and I thought the Colts were the best situation. I fit their defensive scheme; they like big and long corners. It just made sense.”
Flowers, 25, is the oldest of the Colts’ rookies. His strong coverage and return skills give him a strong chance to make the Colts’ final roster. But he isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I’m just trying to get 1 percent better every day. I’ve made it this far and I want to keep rolling,” he said.
Scott, a 2017 OPRF graduate, began his college career at the University of Wyoming. He appeared in eight games as a true freshman wide receiver for the Cowboys, whose starting quarterback was Josh Allen, now starring with the Buffalo Bills.
“Wyoming was the best team that recruited me,” Scott said. “It was a good experience playing with Josh.”
But Allen declared for the 2018 NFL Draft, and upon his departure, Wyoming’s offense drastically changed to a more run-oriented style, leading Scott to transfer to Prairie View A&M University after the 2018 season. Since he was going from an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I) school to an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) school, he was immediately eligible.
Scott had modest success with the Panthers in 2019, catching 11 balls for 262 yards and two touchdowns. But with Prairie View facing a postseason ban for 2020 due to a low NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR), Scott entered the transfer portal again and, finding out he wouldn’t have to sit out a year, ended up at Jacksonville State University in Alabama.
In 2020 with the Gamecocks, he had 10 receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown. Jacksonville State won the Ohio Valley Conference championship and qualified for the FCS playoffs.
But the Gamecocks switched to a run-oriented offense for the season after their starting QB suffered an injury, and with the NCAA granting student-athletes an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19, Scott was yet again at a crossroads.
“I had a struggle mentally being where I wanted to be,” he said. “My ultimate goal was to play in the NFL and I needed to find a place that would give me a chance to go toward it.”
After consulting with his father, Ron, and other advisors, Scott completed his coursework and attained his degree. Then he decided to transfer to Idaho State University, another FCS school, for his final year.
“I really appreciated the opportunity the coaches gave me,” he said. “They gave me a leadership role and I was a mentor to the younger guys. That’s more important than wins or losses at the end of the day.”
In 2021, Scott had his best season, racking up 41 receptions, 335 yards, and four touchdowns for the Bengals while meriting Big Sky All-Conference Honorable Mention — as a tight end. The position switch is something he envisioned happening.
“Tight end was the biggest hole they had to fill, and the coaches thought I was more of a ’tweener,” said Scott, who is 6-feet-6 and 240 pounds. “I started the season at receiver, but then took on a more hybrid role. I did what was asked of me, and I knew that in order to get to the next level, tight end had the most potential.”
Scott attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Pro Day and worked out in front of several NFL teams. He said neither he nor his agent heard much from scouts in the aftermath.
After the first day of the 2022 NFL Draft, Scott said he heard from Idaho State’s director of football operations that a scout from the Carolina Panthers had called seeking Scott’s contact information. That got him optimistic he could be drafted, but he didn’t receive any calls from teams the next two days.
“I was confident that I was going to be a draft pick,” Scott said. “It was easy to get discouraged, and quite frankly I was.”
But on the Monday after the draft, the Panthers’ scout told Scott the team was going to invite him for a tryout at their rookie mini-camp. And he made an impression.
“I went there for three days and never left,” he said. “I signed a three-year contract.”
Now that he’s in training camp, Scott realizes more work needs to be done if he wants to fully realize his NFL dream. But it’s a challenge he’s eager to take on.
“My agent tells me to enjoy each day and put my best foot forward,” said Scott.
“I like where that puts me.”