Cincinnati vs Tulsa

After rushing for 197 yards against Cincinnati, Tulsa running back James Flanders finished the regular reason with a school-record 1,529 yards. BRETT ROJO/for the Tulsa World

MIAMI BEACH, Florida — As the proud dad of three football-playing sons, Anthony Flanders has experienced countless “wow” moments.

The oldest, John, was a four-year starter at cornerback at the University of Tulsa and sealed one of the biggest wins in program history with a late interception at Notre Dame in 2010.

The middle son, Timothy, set rushing and scoring records at Sam Houston State and scored three touchdowns in 2016 for the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Then there’s the youngest, James, who entered his senior year at TU with one career touchdown but wound up setting the program record for most yards in a season. He will play his final college game Monday against Central Michigan in the Miami Beach Bowl.

“You look at all his injuries that he’s come back from, and he breaks the school record,” Anthony Flanders said. “I told him last week, ‘If you were healthy, think about what you would have done.’ ”

Growing up, James Flanders preferred basketball but was told by his wise father that football could be his ticket to a college scholarship. In junior high, James played competitively for the first time and tried out at wide receiver before being moved to running back.

“I didn’t like football,” Flanders said. “All that hitting and practicing and all that stuff. I didn’t like practice. Basketball was my sport.”

At Midwest City High School, Flanders could get away with not giving his best effort in football and relied on natural ability to lead Class 6A in rushing as a senior. He signed with the Hurricane as a three-star recruit.

In college, nothing comes easily. After a season spent redshirting and another on special teams, Flanders had a breakout year with 456 yards as a sophomore, but injuries derailed a 2015 campaign that produced only 87 yards.

Upon becoming healthy again, Flanders realized the importance of practice and began to find satisfaction in hard work.

“He really attacked this fall like I’ve never seen him before, very motivated knowing it was his last go-round … and then every opportunity he got he took full advantage of and his role kept growing and growing,” coach Philip Montgomery said.

TU’s success running the ball — eight games with at least 300 rushing yards — was unexpected, as was Flanders’ role within the offense. He completed the regular season with 1,529 yards, breaking the record of 1,523 set by Tarrion Adams in 2008, and also had 17 touchdowns, including five against Memphis.

“It’s crazy,” Flanders said. “All this stuff happened in one year. … It’s really satisfying. I finally got to showcase my talents.”

In addition to his production on the field, Flanders earned his degree in organizational studies this semester. Because he and backup quarterback Ryan Rubley missed their commencement Saturday while in Miami, TU is conducting a special ceremony for them Sunday morning at the team hotel.

“I’m really proud,” said Anthony Flanders, whose older sons also graduated from college. “That’s so special.”

Anthony and Pam Flanders made the long drive from Midwest City to Miami for the 148th and final college game played by one of their sons. Asked what emotions the game will bring, Anthony Flanders repeated what his youngest said is his favorite word: “Wow.”

“It’s going to be a doozy,” he said. “If they go out and play like they’re supposed to play, I believe in my heart they’ll come home with that big trophy.”

Kelly Hines


Twitter: @KellyHinesTW

Sports Writer

Kelly has been the University of Tulsa football and basketball beat writer since 2014. She grew up in Moore, was valedictorian at Christian Heritage Academy and graduated from Oklahoma State University. Phone: 918-581-8452