Editor’s note: This updated story contains discussion of suicide. If you’re feeling suicidal, you are not alone. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit Student Health and Counseling at UNM.
Nahje Flowers, 21, took his own life on Nov. 5, according to current and past friends of the University of New Mexico football player and Albuquerque Police Department spokesman Gilbert Gallegos.
University and Athletics spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment before this story was published. The story will be updated if they respond with a comment.
Juan Jimenez, a teammate of Flowers at Susan Miller Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, expressed his grief in a phone call with the Daily Lobo.
"I know it caught me by surprise," Jimenez said. "Nahje’s teammates are all caught by surprise right now."
Others said Flowers struggled with emotional health.
"He was hurting for a long time," Zheniah Houston, another of Flowers’ high school friends, told the Daily Lobo. "But he always made sure he helped people because that’s what he wanted."
Houston said the pair had met in their freshman year at Dorsey, in their school’s Upward Bound program for college prep. She described her bond with Flowers as inseparable.
"We called each other our soulmates, but we never touched each other because we were both disgusted by each other, so that was fun," Houston said.
On the field, Flowers was immovable. According to the Los Angeles Sentinel, Flowers was 6-feet tall and weighed 245 pounds during his junior year of high school.
"Whenever we’d do good on defense, I would celebrate with Nahje," Jimenez said, as he reminisced on their Friday night games at Dorsey. "Nahje was bigger than me, so Nahje would pick me up and throw me in the air."
According to the Los Angeles Sentinel, Flowers was scouted by a number of big schools across the country, including the University of California Los Angeles, Washington, Utah and Oklahoma State. Instead, he chose UNM.
"I think it was the girls, honestly," Houston joked. She added that Flowers loved his home in Los Angeles, but he wanted to venture outside of his hometown and try something new — just not too far.
Many members of the Dorsey community found out about Flowers’ passing on social media. The initial announcement, made by UNM Assistant Athletic Director Frank Mercogliano, was matched with a tidal wave of online posts that originated from California and New Mexico.
"Nahje was a wonderful person and a great teammate," UNM football head coach Bob Davie said in a statement released last week. "Our entire Lobo Football family mourns his passing, and our prayers go out to his family."
Flowers played on the defensive line for the Lobos during his collegiate career. He showcased his athleticism during the team’s recent loss at San Jose State University, during which he blocked a field goal.
On Facebook, Flowers’ mentor and UNM academic advisor Joe DeBonis reflected on grief and his memories of the football player.
"A student who was very dear to me took his own life," Debonis wrote. "I still remember that first time I helped Nahje study for his sign language classes. He was so freaking fast with his fingers, and his recall memories were photogenic."
Flowers’ friend Mark Smith told the Daily Lobo he remembers Flowers as the kind of person that would make everyone laugh. Smith said Flowers was the class clown in a math class they took together at UNM.
"If you focus on anything in your article, focus on the importance of people reaching out when they’re in need," Smith told the Daily Lobo over direct message on Twitter. "We all miss signs that could’ve helped avoid certain situations. Our mental health needs to be a priority before sports, school or anything."
Flowers is survived by his parents, La’Vonte Flowers and Vickie Gilmore and his siblings, Albert and Sah’Quira.
Juan Jimenez asked the Daily Lobo to include the following statement. “The DDP Family and myself are going to miss you terribly Nahje. Once a Don always a Don. DDP4life.”
Alanie Rael is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @AllyRael
Justin Garcia is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Just516garc