May 25, 2024

Jay Higgins using last year’s Butkus snub as fuel for 2024 season

Iowa Hawkeyes Football

Iowa linebacker Jay Higgins (34) tackles Tennessee running back Dylan Sampson (6) during the third quarter of the Cheez It-Citrus Bowl Monday January 1, 2024 at Camping World Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Although the Iowa linebacker led the FBS in tackles last season, and tied a school record for stops, he didn’t receive enough recognition.

Jay Higgins did everything he could to fill the shoes of his former teammate Jack Campbell, who won the Butkus Award in 2022 as the nation’s best linebacker. Not to mention Higgins’ 171 total tackles tied Andre Jackson’s single-season, school record from 1972.

However, Higgins wasn’t even one of five finalist for the Butkus. NC State’s Payton Wilson took home the hardware, despite having 33 fewer tackles than Higgins. To make matters worse, Higgins didn’t win the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year either. That was rewarded to Ohio State’s Tommy Eichenberg instead.

The snubs were mind-boggling to Higgins and Hawkeye fans, but he’s not bitter about it at all. The Indianapolis native is using it as motivation for this upcoming season.

“I would say the good thing coming out of that situation is it took a lot of pressure off me, because now I know it’s not about tackles,” Higgins said. “I can just go out there and play, and not worry about if people are counting how many tackles I have.”

There’s no denying it’s going to be tough for Higgins to top what he accomplished last year. After all, he finished third nationally in tackles per game. Higgins finished 12th in the country in solo stops per game. On top of that, he earned second-team, AP All-America honors.

This time around Higgins doesn’t want to be a one-man wrecking crew though. Now he wants to spread the wealth around to his teammates like Nick Jackson and Sebastian Castro, who were both All-Big Ten performers in 2023.

“I really want to step into a role where I’m just helping other people, and getting them the things that they want out of this program,” he said. “Obviously last year I was trying to prove myself, make a name for myself, but now I’m just real excited to spread that around, and play team football.”

The 22-year old can fly from sideline to sideline, and he’s a natural at locating ball-carriers in the open field. Higgins could’ve easily followed his teammates Cooper DeJean, Tory Taylor and Logan Lee to the NFL Draft, but chose to stay for a reason. The former three-star prospect has unfinished business as a Hawkeye, and is determined to add more memorable moments to his legacy.

Being a leader, guiding the younger defenders, and taking accountability is what Higgins is striving to do as Iowa approaches the summer. It’s no mystery that he’s the ideal student-athlete, who’s a class act on and off the field. Higgins takes pride in leading by example, and his positivity always rubs off on his teammates.

After the campaign he had last year, Higgins won’t be sneaking up on anyone, and opposing quarterbacks will make it a priority to locate him before every snap. He may often have to maneuver through two blockers just to make a tackle now.

Regardless, the six-foot-two, 233-pounder isn’t focusing on having video game numbers this fall. Higgins just wants to do whatever it takes for the defense to be successful. That means if his production has to take a backseat in order for his teammates to make plays, than Higgins is all for it.

“If you see me missing tackles on purpose, I’m trying to give them to Nick.”