NORMAL — A former professional baseball player, Bo Flowers doesn’t like to get cheated out of a swing.
And buoyed by his considerable and wide-ranging athletic talents, Flowers is still swinging away nearly 10 years after leaving high school.
Five years in baseball and three more as a football player at the University of Illinois weren’t enough for Flowers, who is savoring his final season of college eligibility at Illinois State.
“Being able to finish my career here is definitely good,” Flowers said Tuesday. “I owed it to myself to go out here and play.”
Flowers left the Illini during the 2009 season, but joining the Redbirds was hardly as simple as driving west on Interstate 74.
First, Flowers had to stay at Illinois for the spring semester to finish his undergraduate degree in community health. He then had to skip valuable August practice sessions to take the Graduate Record Examination test and petition the NCAA to become eligible to play at ISU as a graduate student in criminal justice.
“There is an NCAA rule that you can’t transfer if you have one year left, but you can if you have graduated,” ISU coach Brock Spack said. “He’s done a lot of things to get on the football field. I’m impressed he didn’t say ‘forget it. I’m just going to get my degree and move on with my life.’ ”
Yet Flowers never seriously considered that option.
“It was important. I put a lot of work in,” he said. “Once you start something, you want to finish it.”
The Maywood native missed ISU’s season opener while awaiting final NCAA clearance. He played the next two weeks before missing two games with a shoulder ailment.
“It definitely got frustrating,” said Flowers, who will turn 27 years old on Nov. 12, one day before ISU’s regular-season finale. “But at the same time, I kind of went with the flow and let things sort themselves out. I tried to stick with my motto of don’t let things bother me I can’t control.”
The shoulder injury, coupled with the lack of previous practice time, had put Flowers behind in mastering the Redbird defense.
“I’ve been very impressed with his maturity. When he wasn’t playing, he wasn’t pouting,” Spack said. “He knew it was a matter of time.”
That time has come with starts at strong safety and a combined 11 tackles in ISU’s last two games.
“He’s given us a boost. He’s a physical presence,” said Spack, whose team meets 24th-ranked Western Illinois on Saturday in a 2 p.m. game at Macomb. “He’s really smart. He’s been very coachable.”
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Flowers, who played five seasons in the Tigers and Cubs minor league chains and one year in the independent Frontier League before enrolling at Illinois, is finally back on the field of play.
“I love being able to get out there with the guys and help them out,” he said. “Being in the trenches with the fellas, I love it. I’m satisfied.”