LA Tech’s Ryan Higgins making the most of his second chance

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SATURDAY ON ASN: LA Tech at UMass, 3:30 p.m. ET (click logo for local listings)

After starting six games as a redshirt freshman quarterback, Ryan Higgins spent two years patiently waiting for another chance to lead Louisiana Tech.

Higgins has made the most of that opportunity for the Bulldogs (3-3) this season. The fifth-year senior and team captain is third in the country in passing (373.8 yards per game) and total offense (406 ypg) and sixth in touchdown passes (17). He’s also thrown 181 consecutive passes without an interception—the longest active FBS streak—and been picked off only twice this year.

“It’s been a wild experience,” Higgins said. “I’ve had plenty of ups and downs here. It’s kind of been like riding a roller coaster.”

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Higgins has the Bulldogs on the upswing going into Saturday’s game at UMass (1-5) on ASN. Last week he passed for 454 yards and a career-high five TDs in a 55-52 shootout win over Western Kentucky. His third 400-yard game of the year led to him being a midseason addition to the Manning Award watch list.

With Higgins at the controls, LA Tech ranks in the top 15 nationally in passing (365 ypg) and total offense (526.7 ypg) and is averaging 39.2 points per game. In the LAst 17 quarters, Higgins has completed 65 percent of his throws for 1,615 yards, 15 TDs and no interceptions.

“Ryan Higgins continues to protect the ball,” coach Skip Holtz said after last week’s win. “I get mad at him. I yell, scream and holler, and he looks at me like ‘Yes, sir, are you done? I’ve got to go run a football team.’ He’s poised. He’s protecting the ball. He’s running the offense. I just couldn’t be more proud of the progress that he’s made and the things he’s doing on the field.”

Higgins connected with redshirt junior receiver Carlos Henderson, who had missed the previous six quarters due to injury, eight times for 232 yards and three TDs.

This season the Bulldogs are the only FBS team with a quarterback averaging 350 passing yards, a running back (Jarred Craft) averaging 100 rushing yards and two receivers (Henderson and Trent Taylor) averaging 100 receiving yards per game.

“Carlos is a huge weapon and the fastest man I’ve ever seen,” Higgins said. “When you have a guy like Trent Taylor on the other side, Jarred Craft in the backfield and a great O-line, the defense has to pick their poison. They definitely make me look good.”

Higgins has made tremendous strides since he signed with LA Tech and then-coach Sonny Dykes as a three-star recruit out of Hutto High near Austin, Texas. He passed for 1,715 yards in nine games with six starts as a redshirt freshman in Holtz’s first year but had only six TD passes and 13 interceptions for the 4-8 Bulldogs.

Over the next two seasons he attempted only 35 passes in 12 games as grad transfers Cody Sokol (Iowa) and Jeff Driskel (Florida) started in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Both Sokol and Driskel led LA Tech to nine-win seasons capped by bowl victories.

“I started six games as a redshirt freshman, but we were a bad football team and I got beat up pretty badly,” Higgins said. “We brought in Cody the next year, and I wasn’t mature enough to handle it and was still battling some injuries. Last year I felt like I was beating out Jeff, but I had some tendonitis in my elbow and got mono two weeks into fall camp. My body shut down on me, and Jeff stepped in and did extremely well.”

Going into this season Higgins was the projected starter after passing for 469 yards and five TDs in LA Tech’s spring game, but he was arrested on charges of DWI and speeding just before the start of fall camp. He did not play in a 21-20 season-opening loss at Arkansas but returned the next week to throw for 409 yards and four TDs in a win over South Carolina State.

Higgins was impressive in losses at Texas Tech (311 yards and three scores) and Middle Tennessee (career-high 504 yards and three TDs) before leading the Bulldogs to wins over UTEP and WKU.

“I made a stupid, selfish decision and really embarrassed myself and my team and university, but I had a lot of support and that meant the world to me,” Higgins said. “I’m one of the lucky ones to be able to walk away unharmed. It was really humbling and a learning experience, but I also hope it was a wake-up call for my teammates and other people on campus.”

Higgins dreams of playing in the NFL, but his long-term pLAn is to join the family business (J&R Manufacturing) in Mesquite, Texas. J&R Manufacturing makes commercial barbecue grills, smokers and rotisserie ovens.

But this proud Texan still has some unfinished business in Louisiana.

“I hear a lot about my stats and accolades, but all I care about is winning,” Higgins said. “We want to get better every week and win a conference championship for the Bulldog fans. Sometimes we feel overlooked here and want to show the world we can play some football in Ruston, Louisiana.”


Above: Photos courtesy Tom Morris/LATechSportsPix.com

Joshua Parrott

Joshua Parrott is a freelance writer based in Houston. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaParrott.