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Higgins wants o be a Golden Bear

Mike Houser

BY MIKE HOUSER

Nevada Appeal Sports Writer

 

Six games into his freshman season, 2008 Carson High School graduate and De Anza College right guard Robert Higgins had just crossed his emotional threshold.

The 6-foot-7, 310-pound Higgins, who also played right guard for the CHS football team, had managed to avoid a redshirt season and had even seen some significant playing time for the Dons.

But he wasn’t yet starting.

“That wasn’t an option. I came into the school wanting to be a starter,” Higgins said. “I had a chance in the beginning, but I was a little jumpy. I false-started a couple of times. It didn’t work out. The coaches didn’t have enough confidence in me. I still needed to learn a little bit.”

Higgins didn’t know it at the time, but not only was his education beginning, he was about to graduate the course.

ALPHA MALE

According to Higgins, Dons defensive end James Walbridge gave him a shove in the back during a practice the week before.

“That didn’t fly with me,” Higgins said. “I didn’t face him again in practice.”

Higgins and Walbridge, two alpha males looking to establish their place in the pack, finally met each other on the field.

“It was a pass-blocking drill. I was throwing him all over,” Higgins said. “I was straight mad at him. We got into a shoving match. The team circled around us and we went one-on-one.”

“Guys are yelling, ‘Offense!’ ‘Come on defense!’ “Robert!'” said De Anza offensive coordinator Tony Santos of the showdown. “(Higgins) just pancaked him ” twice. I hadn’t seen that fire (before). I said, ‘OK, Robert, you’re ready.'”

“The next day was our Thursday practice,” Higgins said. “(Santos) called me in with the first group. That’s when I knew I was starting. And I never looked back.”

Higgins, who suffered through a 2-8 season in his last year at Carson, got a feeling of how the other side lives as the Dons went on to finish 7-3. They were second in the Coast Conference, behind only Monterey Peninsula College, which went on to drop a 33-31 decision to Shasta College in the Bulldog Bowl.

Higgins said winning is intoxicating.

“It helps to have coaches who are enthusiastic, who are intense,” Higgins said. “They went 3-7 the season before. Like us (players), they don’t like to lose. They hate to lose.”

‘A FUNNY DUDE’

Higgins’ first challenge ” adjusting to moving away from home ” lasted all of three days.

“The reason for that is I needed to leave this town. I needed to leave Carson,” Higgins said during a recent visit home for the Thanksgiving holiday. “I go down there and I have no strings attached, no parents, no drama. Just football. I fell into that system where all I had to think about was just football.

“I’m not going to lie: I was afraid to leave home. I didn’t know what to expect. The team was real inviting and helped me get into their system. I got a playbook and started hanging out with the offensive line. It was all gravy.”

Fellow O-lineman Dave Alipate, a 6-foot-2, 290-pound guard/tackle originally from N’uku’alosa, Tonga, said Higgins has his own personality.

“He’s pretty goofy actually,” Alipate said. “He’s kinda weird. I didn’t expect that out of him. When he first got here he was quite shy. Now he breaks into jokes and all kinds of crazy stuff. He’s a funny dude, I’ve got to admit that.”

Higgins, a creative writing major, has begun applying his unique perspective to a medium he calls “The Unsung Chronicles.”

“It’s basically the point of view of an offensive lineman,” Higgins said. “I’m kind of giving light to what they do. It’s not for a class. It’s something I do when I have a spare moment. It’s semi-fiction.”

A BIG STEP FOR A BIG MAN

While writing is something Higgins can fall back on later, his immediate focus is on having a breakout sophomore year for the Dons and earning a full-ride Division I scholarship from the California Golden Bears.

“That’s the Holy Grail right there,” Higgins said. “That’s the be-all, end-all school I want to go to. Everybody has told me my whole life, ‘You have the size, do you have the drive?’ I can honestly say that I do now.”

De Anza College is located in Cupertino, Calif., so Higgins is in the right location to draw interest from his school of choice. He also may be in the right system with the right people.

Head coach Dan Atencio counts Cal and the San Jose Sabercats of the Arena Football League among his stops and he has many connections within the Pac-10.

The Dons run a number of power sets that highlight Higgins and three other 300-pounders, including 6-foot-8, 320-pound Peter Vitorovic. Among those sets are Buffalo, in which there are eight offensive linemen, and the Poly-I, which utilizes 10 on the line, with the running back taking the direct snap and running either right or left.

Even though their opponents have known what’s coming, the Dons averaged 31.7 points and 300-plus yards rushing per game this season.

Santos said has two main goals for Higgins: Getting him in NFL Combine condition and capturing his performances on tape.

“First off, you don’t make 6-7, 300-pounders,” Santos said of Higgins’ size upside. “But you can change his body from that of a young man into a more physically impressive guy, with big arms, good foot movement.

“I think he needs to work on footwork and strength. You get him to look the part. He’ll already get looks because of his size and school by Division I and Division I-AA programs. Everyone needs linemen. They’re gold.”

For Higgins, being gold is great, but being a Golden Bear would be money.

With a redshirt in reserve and a starting position to maintain, the 19-year-old Higgins is turning his attention to off-season conditioning.

“Now the real stuff begins,” he said. “I’m going to live in the weight room. I’m at a point where my body and mind are working together. Anyone wants to take my spot right now, good luck. I won’t give it up.”