Higgins set to play for De Anza

Robert Higgins knows a thing or two about expectations and realizations. Always too large to compete in Pop Warner, Higgins - a 6-foot-8, 315-pound human Humvee - began his football career on the Carson Senators freshman football team, but got an early rude awakening.

"I went in thinking my size would carry me," Higgins said Sunday. "It didn't work out. I realized you actually had to want to hit somebody. I was really reluctant at first. I was doing it to make my dad (Charles Higgins) happy at first. After the disappointing time that was my freshman year, I decided to do it for myself."

After enduring his teammates' taunts that he was too soft to make it as a football player, Higgins, then a too-gentle giant with a poet's heart, began to work on his body and his mind.

Following four years of learning his craft and finding his inner mean, the 18-year-old has realized a dream: Last week Higgins gave his verbal commitment to De Anza College, where Dons offensive coordinator Tony Santos said he expects his new charge to start as a freshman.

De Anza, which plays in the Coast Conference, finished 3-7 last season.

"We had a lack of offensive line players," Santos said, adding the Dons had an All-American running back. "I think Robert really helps us out. Robert wanted the opportunity to start and contribute."

Higgins said he had a moment of clarity following his freshman year, when he saw little playing time.

"It hit me once that I never wanted to not play again," he said. "I got meaner and changed my mentality how things went. I stopped listening to what people had to say to me. Because of my size, they thought I'd be a monster on the field. I got a lot of crap. It motivated me. I never let guys think about me that way again."

Cue Three Days Grace and crank up "Animal I Have Become."

The self-motivated Higgins began his own weight program and played on the junior varsity team as a sophomore. By his junior year he started "a few games" and last year for the 2-8 Senators, he was a new man.

"I get out there looking to put people on the ground every single play," Higgins said. "I'm not looking to block them; I'm looking to kill them. It's a good mentality to have."

After all, if you're going to be a bear, be a polar bear - a fairly appropriate metaphor for Higgins, a die-hard Chicago Bears fan.

Built as tall and wide as a door, Higgins has the one thing going for him that can never be coached: sheer size. Senators offensive line coach Jim Franz is said to have coined Higgins' nickname: "Eclipse."

"I was standing in front of Coach Franz one day and he said, 'Where'd the sun go?'" Higgins said with a chuckle.

"He has great size," said Blair Roman, who after two years as assistant coach under Shane Quilling has stepped into the head coaching spot for CHS. "He has a lot of things a lot of kids aren't blessed with. At times last year he was a real force for us run blocking. He eats up space."

Roman, who for two years was the head coach for North Valleys, said Higgins needs to work on his pass blocking, which isn't unusual because of Carson's traditional run-oriented offense.

And Santos said Higgins shouldn't expect to get by on size alone for the Dons.

"The thing is, in high school he stuck out like a sore thumb," Santos said. "We have a couple of defensive lineman that are pretty good and who will challenge him every day - something he may not have had at Carson every day. We have another guy that's 6-10, 300 pounds."

Higgins, an exceptionally well-read youngster (he counts Stephen King, Tom Clancy and Kurt Vonnegut among his many favorite authors), said he wants to pursue a sports journalism degree if he doesn't attain his goal of playing in the National Football League.

He appears to have found a great all-round school for himself at De Anza, which is located in the city of Cupertino, about 10 miles west of San Jose and only two miles away from Apple headquarters.

Higgins, who squats 420 pounds, power cleans 290 and benches 325, said he is attracted to Santos' program because of its commitment to getting players to the next level - "a Pac-10 team, hopefully, fingers crossed, praying to God," Higgins said - by emphasizing NFL Combine training.

Rather than filling him full of protein and adding even more size, Santos has a different plan for Higgins.

"We want him at 299 pounds," Santos said. "We want to get it out of his mind that he's a 300-pounder. Everyone can lose weight. Even if you're in great shape you can lose five pounds. Right guard, right tackle is where we have him now. We want him to learn one more position, so he can go left tackle or left guard."

Santos said he encourages his players to be versatile so they can play different positions and see more time in games.

"We want to ensure that the best guys get on the field," Santos said. "We want our players aware that they're always one hit away from playing in the game. We want to make sure they are battle-tested. Every week they have to work to play - starters or not."

As important as his development on the field, Santos said he wants Higgins to evolve off of it.

"We want him to be able to shop and wash his clothes without Mom and Dad," said Santos, who said Higgins was also interested in the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes. "We hope he comes down where young boys turn into young men away from home and the into men in society."

It will be yet another chapter in the life of the aspiring writer and storyteller, one whose ending he hopes is yet another beginning at a Division-I school.

"It's a dream. A dream is something you pursue with all your heart," said Higgins, who will leave for De Anza in mid-July. "If you don't get it, you go on and get what you plan on anyway and become a sports journalist."

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