Kids Sports News Network

2019 Recap: Justin Flowe Wins the Dick Butkus Award

—Edited & composed by Kason Clark, Nicolette Rojo and Daniel Brito

Upland High School senior and 5-star linebacker Justin “Baby Man” Flowe walked into school and was greeted with a surprise. As he walked in, there stood the legendary Dick Butkus, present to congratulate him on winning a prestigious award. Justin has joined an elite upper echelon of linebackers after being named the 2019 Dick Butkus Award winner on Dec. 2, an award given to the nation’s top linebacker at the high school, collegiate and NFL levels.

Head Coach Darrel Thomas was honored and thrilled to have a player on his team recognized as the best in the country.

“To have one of our linebackers recognized for the Dick Butkus award is very unbelievable and humbling,” Coach Thomas said.

The award is a cherry on top of Justin’s dominant senior year which saw him make plays all over the field, racking up 123 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and 10 sacks. Justin has been a force for Upland High School football since he first arrived, with his extraordinary football IQ and hard-hitting athleticism on the field first gaining national interest back in 2017. Since then, he has continued to excel as an elite athlete, with scholarship offers arriving from major football programs such as Oregon, UCLA, and Oklahoma, and the Los Angeles Times touting him as the best linebacker prospect out of California in a decade.

Justin’s game footage went viral on multiple occasions on social media due to his speed and punishing hits, a style of play that is reminiscent of the great Chicago Bear Dick Butkus, who personally presented him the award on Dec. 18. Justin says that his style of play developed from Butkus’s aggressive persona on the gridiron.

“I really liked how aggressive he played, he played so aggressively and that’s how I like to play…I take a lot from the way he played,” Justin said.

Dick Butkus, the man who the award is named after, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in1979 after playing 9 seasons for the Chicago Bears. His legendary career was cut short due to injury. Today, Dick still feels the lingering side effects of his injuries, but it doesn’t stop him from occasionally traveling to congratulate the Butkus award winners.

The Hall of Fame linebacker highlights two key components when winning the Dick Butkus Award, with one component being that reflects a player’s outstanding performance on the gridiron. Butkus reinforces this idea by saying that “when you get the Dick Butkus award, you’re the best of the best linebackers in the country.”

Dick Butkus (Left), Justin Flowe (Center), Matt Butkus (Right).

Secondly, the award symbolizes more than the player behind the helmet, pads, and number on his jersey. It represents the young man who also makes an impact off the field as a community leader.

“You now have a responsibility to serve others and give back because that’s the old American tradition: is giving back,” Butkus said.

Dick lives by his message as the head of two other organizations. The Dick Butkus Center for Cardiovascular Wellness is a nonprofit organization that uses specialized testing to help identify those at risk of heart disease and sudden cardiac death. He also runs the I Play Clean campaign that addresses the growing issue of steroid use among high school athletes.

The award is a fantastic accomplishment for Justin and a great sign of what’s to come for the young athlete. Previous winners of the award include Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker Jaylon Smith, who won the award in 2012 and played at Notre Dame for three years before getting drafted in the second round. He later became team captain and recently signed a 5-year, $64 million contract extension. Miami Dolphins’ linebacker Raekwon McMillan won the award in 2013 and was drafted in the 2nd round. He is widely regarded as a rising star at the position and a pivotal piece for the team. Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean was the 2019 winner of the award and played in all 12 games as a freshman for the Bulldogs.

Justin fits right in with this lineage of elite defensive players. He was a terror for opposing offenses for the duration of his high school career, with universities across the country eager to welcome his talents to their team.

“It was hands down. He was the runaway winner,” Butkus said.

Legendary football coach Tim Salter, who coached Justin for three years at Upland, recognized the rarity of coaching an athlete like Justin, who plays at such an elite level, which marks a special victory for himself and the Upland High School football program.

“You can coach your whole life and you’re lucky to get one or two players that play at that level,” Salter said.

Justin announced his commitment on Dec. 18, raising an Oregon Ducks hat to his head in front of a national audience on ESPN. With his family and coaches at his side, his gleaming smile confirmed his excitement to bring his smash-mouth style of play to Autzen Stadium under Head Coach Mario Cristobal for the next three to four years and surge as a key part of a stacked defense in the Pac-12.

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