|Higgins' family reunited after son's Florida title|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 24 August 2007 23:34|
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -Tim Higgins keeps his Florida national championship ring at home. The Gator T-shirts and caps? Also packed away for another time.|
Higgins, a walk-on for Florida for four years, knew joining his father, coach Kevin Higgins, at The Citadel wouldn't be easy.
He would have to overcome the tag ``coach's son'' and the idea that an outsider who hadn't marched in the military school's Corps of Cadets could become a starter.
So Higgins isn't about to talk up his championship days as a Gator - or do anything else that might divide him from the rest of the Bulldogs.
``That was my biggest concern,'' said Higgins, 22. ``You want to be one of the guys, so I came in here determined to work as hard as anyone.''
That's been a theme of Higgins' career so far.
Coming out of Saucon Valley High in Hellertown, Pa., Higgins had hoped to join his father's team at Lehigh. But Kevin Higgins was hired as a Detroit Lions assistant, leaving Tim open for all college possibilities.
Tim Higgins had long been a Florida fan, thanks to former Gator assistant and Kevin Higgins' friend, Bob Sanders. So the Higgins' family sent video to Florida coaches, who were impressed enough to invite the 5-foot-8 Higgins to walk on.
So started four years of punishing practice hits with the scout team, all with little hope Higgins would see the field. He tore a knee ligament and hurt a hamstring, among other bumps and bruises. He was frustrated at times about his teammate's lack of fire early on and his long-shot prospects to play.
Quitting never entered his mind. ``You don't do that when you're a Higgins,'' he said.
Florida coach Urban Meyer, hired before the 2005 season, thought enough of Higgins to put him on scholarship last fall. Higgins' biggest moment came against Western Carolina at The Swamp.
Higgins was president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes on campus. The organization printed leaflets with his story and detailed plans to hold signs and shout ``We Want Higgins `` in the final quarter.
Higgins couldn't believe the display. He got a bigger thrill later when Meyer let him go and take a handoff from Gators quarterback Tim Tebow to the cheers of Florida fans.
``It was a dream come true,'' Higgins said, emotion welling up as he remembers.
His father's office at The Citadel has a framed photo of the moment when No. 37 got his one carry for no gain.
By that time, Higgins had decided to fulfill another dream and play for his father. An NCAA rule let him transfer as a graduated senior and immediately play a fifth season, so Higgins landed at The Citadel. He's working on a master's degree in education, but has relished the time with his family.
``It's already been awesome,'' Higgins said of reconnecting with his father. ``I respect him better than anybody else in the world.''
Both Higgins men knew the transition from Gator to Bulldog would be challenging.
The Citadel is a tight-knit cadet community where students and grads take pride in the school's ring rather than jewelry earned elsewhere. Football practice is often a welcome break from the cadet system of drills, classwork and military structure.
``This is a unique place,'' said Kevin Higgins, who is starting his third season with the Bulldogs.
Tim Higgins' teammates were skeptical of a fifth-year student with the coach's last name.
``When he first came in, we all thought 'coach's son,' and stuff like that,'' Bulldog receiver Andre Roberts said. ``Once he became our teammate and you get to know him, all that passes by.''
Higgins did what he could to quicken the process. He ate meals at the mess hall and slept some at the barracks with other players.
``One thing I knew was that he was going to improve the GPA of our football team and give great effort on the practice field,'' Kevin Higgins said. ``As long as you have a kid that's going to do what he's supposed to do and give great effort, things are going to work out.''
Still, Higgins the coach set up boundaries with Higgins the player. Kevin Higgins tries not to discuss team issues that his son might get questioned about by teammates. The coach leaves his son's technique to Dave Cecchini, the team's offensive coordinator and receivers coach.
Still, ``once in a while I find myself looking for him,'' Kevin Higgins said with pride. ``That's kind of neat.''
Tim Higgins' efforts to fit in have paid off. He has earned a starting receiver spot and was recently voted by his teammates to the leadership council.
Both Tim Higgins and his father have enjoyed the family reunion. Besides seeing mom, Kay, Tim has bonded with 19-year-old sister, Meaghan, and played golf with youngest sibling, 15-year-old Katie Rose.
And more often as the weeks went on, Citadel teammates asked him about winning the national title. Higgins hopes his stories bring the same championship mind-set to the Bulldogs.
``There's important things that I learned from there that can help us win,'' Higgins said. ``I hope I can bring that here.''
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