Rashard Higgins’ mother is his biggest source of inspiration. Everything Colorado State’s star wide receiver does on and off the football field, he does for her.
But Jeannette Jackson won’t attend the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl on Tuesday featuring Colorado State and Nevada. She rarely leaves her small apartment in Mesquite, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, unoccupied. She lives in what her son describes as a “low-income environment,” and going out of town is fraught with risk.
“It’s just a bad neighborhood where we’re from,” Higgins said Saturday before the Rams’ practice at the Kino Sports Complex. “For my mom to leave, it can be a hassle. People break into houses where I’m from. She’d just rather stay home and look at the game on TV or online.”
Jackson won’t be in Tucson on Tuesday, but she’s always with Higgins, pushing him to be the best receiver he can be. As Colorado State wideouts go, Higgins is the greatest of all time. It took him just three seasons to claim school records for career receptions (230) and touchdowns (31). He needs 115 receiving yards against the Wolf Pack to eclipse David Anderson’s CSU mark of 3,634.
Roughly half of that production came last season, when, as a true sophomore, Higgins led the nation in receiving yards (1,750) and TDs (17). He was one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, along with Amari Cooper and Kevin White. Cooper won it. He and White were top-seven picks in the 2015 NFL draft.
As the only returnee from that group, Higgins entered this season with massive expectations. His numbers aren’t what they were a year ago. He has caught 66 passes — down from 96 — for 933 yards and eight scores. All those stats rank in the top 30 in the country. But they aren’t close to his prolific 2014 totals, leading one to wonder: Did Higgins’ play fall off this season?
His teammates insist that isn’t the case. Running back Jasen Oden Jr., one of Higgins’ closest friends on the team, said the “little things” Higgins does now mean more than the big numbers he posted last year.
“What people fail to realize is, Rashard Higgins blocks down the field,” Oden said. “He’s a great technician. He’s a great route runner. He has great hands.
“They (critics) just look at the numbers. It’s the other things … that really separate him from everybody else.”
Several factors conspired to deflate Higgins’ production. The first was the departure of quarterback Garrett Grayson, who last season passed for a school-record 4,006 yards and was named the Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Successor Nick Stevens, a redshirt sophomore, has had an up-and-down season typical of a first-time starting quarterback. First-year coach Mike Bobo has asked less of Stevens than the previous staff did of Grayson. Stevens has averaged 25.4 passing attempts per game compared to 32.3 for Grayson, as the Rams have become a more run-oriented team (58.4 percent run plays vs. 49.3 in 2014).
It also took Higgins time to get fully healthy. He suffered a hamstring injury in spring that lingered into the season and limited his practice time. Higgins missed the Week 2 game against Minnesota because of a sprained foot. He has practiced more lately and played “extremely well” over the second half of the season, according to Bobo.
Whether Higgins sticks around after Tuesday remains to be seen. He’ll be eligible for the 2016 draft, and his decision has been a season-long storyline at CSU. NFLDraftScout.com ranks Higgins as the No. 13 wide receiver and No. 102 overall player in this class, putting him within range of the third round. Pete Fiutak, the lead college football analyst for Campus Insiders, describes the 6-foot-2-inch, 190-pound Higgins as a “field stretcher” who projects as a “solid No. 2 receiver” in the NFL.
Higgins remained noncommittal Saturday.
“I’m still waiting right now,” he said. “It’s still up in the air.”
But considering the situation back home, it’s more likely than not that he’ll leave. Besides being a single mother to three (Rashard has an older brother and sister), his mom has been on disability since breaking her neck in 1999.
“I just want my mom to see better things in life. We never had a lot of money. For me to be able to change things, it’ll mean a lot.”