No one was surprised when Tee Higgins decided, after the national championship game, he was going to forgo his senior season at Clemson and enter the NFL draft as underclassman.
Higgins ended his Clemson career as one of the top receivers in the program’s history, catching 135 passes for 2,448 yards, while tying the school’s all-time touchdown reception mark with 27. In all, he played in 43 games with 30 starts in his three-season career.
Higgins has come a long way since his freshman season at Clemson. The Tennessee native was more of a basketball player when he first got to Clemson. He had a great high school career, but he was more of a jump-ball guy. He would run down the field and they would just throw it to him, and he would go up and get it.
“He was Bony Maroney. He was about — he was probably 180 pounds, maybe, when he got here, and now he’s about close to 215. So, he’s just worked his tail off and developed physically, had a lot to learn from a technical standpoint about the position and things like that. But he’s just put the work in,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Never had Higgins hard work paid off than in the ACC Championship Game this past season. In Clemson’s 62-17 win over Virginia on Dec. 7, Higgins had a career night. He caught a career-high nine passes for 182 yards, to go along with his three touchdowns. His 182 yards and three scores were both ACC Championship Game records.
When it was all said and done, he was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“He is such a joy to coach, and I was just telling the guys in our meeting in there, you know, our best players, Tee, Travis [Etienne], the guys like that, [James] Skalski, Trevor [Lawrence], they’re the most humble, selfless kids you’ve ever been [around] — you can’t even believe it. They’re just so humble – they’re humble superstars, if you will. They don’t act like they’re better than anybody. They just put the work in.
“And whether Tee gets one ball or 10, he doesn’t care. These guys are selfless, and they’re happy for their teammates, and they set an example for everyone, and when your best player has such high character and humility and great respect for how you have to work to prepare week in and week out and then they set that example, I mean, it just makes my job easy.”
Higgins work ethic has him projected as a first-round draft pick, which right now does not mean a whole lot, but it is a starting point. He will have a chance to impress NFL coaches and general managers next month at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Scouts are in love with Higgins hands, which are very strong. He also has a big catch radius. His 6-4, 216-pound frame allows him the opportunity to go up and beat out most defenders. He uses his size a lot of times to box-out defensive corners and safeties.
At Clemson, what most people call 50-50 balls, they called it 80-20 balls because most college cornerbacks could not jump or out muscle Higgins. At times, it was literally like a man playing against boys.
And though he caught three touchdown passes from Trevor Lawrence in the ACC Championship Game, his best catch was not even a touchdown. It was a diving stab along the sideline that had everyone in the stadium wondering how he caught it.
“I was watching it. I thought he had it, but I was not sure because I put it out there pretty far. That was a great catch,” Lawrence said.
Higgins thought so, too.
“We definitely emphasize it in practice. We practice it almost every day,” Higgins said. “Coach Swinney said you touch, you catch, and I touch a lot, so I had to catch it. Trevor threw the ball, he kind of threw it out of bounds a lot more than I thought he would, and I just kept a foot in.”
Higgins is averaged a remarkable 19.8 yards per catch in 2019, which led the team. He finished his final year in a Clemson uniform catching 59 passes for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns.
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