PULLMAN – Hallston Higgins trekked north from Magnolia, Texas, hoping to follow in the cleats of another Texas linebacker then having success at Washington State University, Greg Trent.
Trent, who mentored Higgins from the start, finished his career in 2008 seventh all time at WSU with 323 tackles. But his protégé? Three mostly unproductive years later, the 5-foot-11, 225-pound Higgins entered spring practice as something of an afterthought. That’s changed.
“A surprise has definitely been Hallston Higgins,” Paul Wulff said following Tuesday’s spring workout, the Cougars’ 10th of 15, and the third one Wulff has singled Higgins out for praise. “He’s come in and played the Mike (middle) backer and clearly played the best football he’s ever played.”
“Football has always been very important to Hallston,” linebacker coach Travis Niekamp said, explaining Higgins’ rise. “He’s really taken a step maturity-wise and focus-wise in being the best football player he can be.”
Though Higgins has lost fat – he admits he was overweight after last year – and added muscle – a rededication to weight-room work helped there – he said the biggest change is in attitude – and opportunity.
“I’m embracing this whole season,” Higgins said. “It might be my last go-around so I’m just focusing on giving it my all, just trying to have fun with it, being my last one and all.”
The results have been obvious for a player who has posted just 20 tackles in three seasons.
“We moved him inside to Mike, which I think is a good fit for him, and he’s taken advantage of it,” Niekamp said. “He’s had opportunities and he’s risen to the occasion. That’s what you want out of all your players.
“If a guy goes down or you have an opportunity to work with the ones, you want to see those guys raise their level of play. And Hallston’s absolutely done that.”
With Louis Bland recuperating from knee surgery and Mike Ledgerwood suffering a concussion that forced him out of a few spring workouts, Higgins has been the man in the middle.
Higgins said he’s finally ready for it.
“Since last year I just (decided) that whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability,” Higgins said. “I’ve grown up, learned how to handle adversity. But it’s mostly just want-to … not let anything stop me.”
In the fall Bland, a two-year starter, should be back 100 percent and Ledgerwood will still be competing. So how does Higgins plan on keeping his edge?
“Keep having fun with the game,” Higgins said. “That’s been the main difference, me wanting to come out and practice hard every day. And me wanting to get that spot and be that guy for the team.”
Though Higgins has been the biggest surprise, the linebacking corps has made strides throughout the spring, thanks in large part to a depth that Higgins exemplifies.
“Going into this season we are as talented and as deep as we’ve ever been,” Niekamp said. “Some of that is youth, which means we’re going to have some inconsistent days. For the most part they’ve come out and worked pretty hard.”
Most of those young guys spend time together off the field after competing for playing time on it. And that won’t change.
“We’re still buddies, we still talk and kick it,” Higgins said. “When it comes down to the field, let the best man win. We’re going to be buddies off the field, regardless.”