BY Geoff Morrow
4th Down Magazine
STEELTON -- There's a nod between mother and son. No words needed.
An interpreter might suggest it means "It's go time."
When Jarvai Flowers notices that bobblehead shake from Melissa Flowers-Spearman, look out.
"Or sometimes I would stand at the end, near the goal posts, and be like, 'Meet me down here,' and he would meet me down there," Flowers-Spearman said of her son, the 17-year-old Steelton-Highspire senior football co-captain.
Family drives Jarvai Flowers' success, and he's seen plenty of it on the football field, on the basketball court and on the track.
Football is his favorite, though, and like most stars at Steel-High, he plays a variety of positions: running back, wide receiver, free safety, cornerback, kick returner, punt returner.
His preferred spot is running back, where last year he rushed for more than 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns.
"I like to tell colleges that he's going to prepare, he's going to work hard, and he makes a difference," said Rollers head coach Andrew Erby, who spotted Flowers' talents in midget and pony football and coached him in junior high basketball.
"He's a special kid, and when he gets the ball in his hands and gets an opportunity, he's a game-changer."
Some colleges, despite the Rollers checking in as a Class 1A school, have started noticing, too. He's holding offers from a trio of Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference schools -- Cheyney, Slippery Rock and Millersville -- but more should join the party during his senior season.
A scholarship is the goal, as Flowers wants to pursue a career in nursing.
While that might seem an odd choice for an athletic phenom, it fits his personality and his desire to give back.
"It's [a field] that will never go away," he said of nursing. "I enjoy working with people, helping people and knowing I can help save a life."
Added Melissa: "Some of the pictures I post on Instagram, everyone is always liking his smile. When he's hugging his sisters, just the way he looks at them, he just loves everybody. It's just the way he is. He's not your average 17-year-old. He's silly."
A fierce competitor on the field -- "His mindset changes; he goes into beast mode," says mom -- that's the different Jarvai. The off-field version is the upbeat, happy, helpful kid.
"He's funny," Rollers quarterback Malachi Young said. "He's just that chill, laid-back, funny bull. Nobody has a problem with him. Everybody on the team likes him."
Flowers can't exactly explain the origins of his personality or even his desire to go into nursing -- Melissa is a liability adjuster with Nationwide, and dad Kelly Spearman is a supervisor at Roadtex -- but perhaps the friendliness stems from adapting to various moves throughout his childhood.
He was born in Reading; Melissa is a Governor Mifflin grad, while Kelly hails from Philadelphia. His parents have been together 18 years and married for seven.
The family, including older sisters Ayana and Mia, younger sister Kelice and younger brother Mehki, moved to Hinesville, Georgia, for a year (too slow), then to Greensboro, North Carolina, where Flowers first started playing football.
They enjoyed Greensboro, but family obligations prompted a move back to Pennsylvania, and they settled on Harrisburg as a compromise for Reading and Philly.
When Harrisburg wasn't a good fit, they tried nearby Steelton and fell in love.
"I'm a very strict parent in terms of can't do this, can't do that, and when we first moved they weren't allowed beyond the front porch," Melissa recalls. "But then I got a feel for it, and everyone knows everyone. It's like a village, which is what I believe in, and I started to let them venture out."
They adopted the Rollers, and the Rollers adopted them.
Now Jarvai Flowers wants to return Steel-High football, which, despite last year's run to the PIAA Class 1A semifinals, hasn't recorded a winning season since 2013, back to Mid-Penn Capital prominence.
"We're not going to quit if we're down," he said of a team that's 1-1 entering this weekend's non-league battle at Dover and ranked No. 5 in Class 1A in Eric Epler's latest state rankings.
"We're still going to fight. We're playing for each other. And we gotta beat Middletown this year. Last year was the first year we lost to Middletown in six or seven years, so we gotta get that back."
The Flowers family is a perfect fit, said Erby, who was born and raised a Roller.
"We always pride ourselves in being two-way football players, blue-collar hard workers, not a lot of excuses," he said. "We know we don't have big numbers, but we've never been afraid to step up and play bigger schools. That definitely rubbed off on him, and I think he's in his comfort zone."
Typical Flowers came last year, Erby said, after he injured his knee in the regular-season finale against Middletown.
With the District 3 championship game against Halifax slated for the next weekend, Flowers rehabbed himself back into playing shape, then started against the Wildcats and helped the Rollers to a 20-14 triumph.
He followed by putting up huge numbers in PIAA playoff wins over Muncy and Williams Valley.
"A lot of younger kids look for him to lead," Erby said. "His positive energy rubs off on the team. The team goes as he goes."
And, again, he "goes" for his family. That's his motivation.
"I told my parents a couple years ago, 'I'm gonna get y'all out the hood and living good,'" he said. "My parents been giving me stuff all my life, making sure I'm good, and I just want to do that for them.
"So every time I step on the field or into the classroom, it's for them and my brothers and sisters."