TAMPA, Fla. -- Charlie Strong has such deep ties to Florida, as soon as he walked in the door at USF, he started recognizing one player after another that he had recruited somewhere else.
None were more prominent than quarterback Quinton Flowers, whom Strong got to know briefly as Louisville head coach.
Flowers starred at Jackson High in Miami, the same area that turned out Teddy Bridgewater and a host of others who laid the foundation for Strong to notch consecutive 10-win seasons with the Cards, and eventually the Texas job.
At the time, Strong wanted Flowers as a defensive back. "I didn’t tell him he was gonna be a DB," Strong says now with a laugh. "I was gonna get him first, and then tell him."
Strong was not alone. Virtually every coach who recruited Flowers wanted the same. Their story ended there, at least temporarily: Strong went on to Texas and Flowers signed with USF -- the only school who said yes, he could play quarterback.
Over the next three years, Strong and the Longhorns struggled through losing seasons without any real answers at quarterback; Flowers blossomed into one of the top dual-threat players in the country, setting a school record for total offense with 4,337 yards.
So you see why their reunion here is tinged with particular meaning. They not only have a familiarity. In Flowers, Strong has his first established starting quarterback since Bridgewater ran the show in Louisville in 2013. That already has some talking about the Bulls as the favorite to earn the Group of 5 spot in the New Year's Six bowls.
"You look at the quarterback, and he’s so dynamic," Strong said. "You just look at the season he had last year, and now we’ve just got to make sure we continue to build and let’s make sure that he’s able to reach whatever goals he has."
Flowers became the first player in school and state history to pass for more than 2,000 yards and run for more than 1,000 in his final season under Willie Taggart. This spring, the emphasis has been less on running and more on refining what he does as a passer.
Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert started with an overhaul of Flowers' throwing motion. Flowers used to wind up to throw, wasting precious seconds in his delivery. That wind up is gone, allowing Flowers to deliver the ball with more accuracy and velocity.
"When we’re warming, up he’ll put his hand right on my chest and I can’t wind up and throw because that’s what I was doing," Flowers said. "Now, it’s just keep it at a 90-degree angle and release it. Everything’s falling into place just by listening to him. My release has gotten quicker. My ball location, my accuracy."
Gilbert came from Texas with Strong, but his past is filled with quarterbacks who all had their unique style, from Jimmy Garoppolo to Shane Buechele. The offense he wants to run is a variation of what he learned from Art Briles at Baylor, a system Gilbert believes offers the flexibility for any type of quarterback to run it.
"You don’t have to say, 'Hey, I need this kind of guy to run this offense,'" Gilbert said. "There’s some simplicity in it, but there’s a ton of formations with it, where you can say quarterback-wise, this is what we need to do. Maybe some offenses don’t have that flexibility, but within this offense it lays there, so we’re able to go grab it and go use it."
Once spring practice ends, Gilbert will sit down with Flowers and talk about the direction the offense should go.
"He’s really talented and coming back off what he did, it’s one of those things where don’t reinvent the wheel with him," Gilbert said. "We’re just in a hurry to find out what he does best, and let’s go do that. It’s not like we’re going to try to take him down another path and make him comfortable with something new. It’s like, 'Hey, let’s do what he does really well, and let’s do a lot of it.'"
It has taken time for Flowers to adjust to everything that he is learning. Sometimes in practice, he goes back to his old habits with his throwing motion before quickly correcting himself. Focusing on his passing has been different, too.
But Flowers is eager to learn, and eager to get better. If he is as dynamic as he was a year ago, then it will not come as a major surprise to see the Bulls -- and Strong -- winning big again.