Zach Higgins is big man on Marlington's campus

Todd Porter
Updated: Monday, August 22, 2011
Standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 300 pounds, Marlington offensive lineman Zach Higgins is hard to miss on a football field — or in general.<br /><div id="dfp-300x250" style="float:right;"><script type="text/javascript">googletag.display("dfp-300x250");</script></div>
Standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 300 pounds, Marlington offensive lineman Zach Higgins is hard to miss on a football field — or in general.

There was never a day, a week, a month or even a year when it happened. Zach Higgins always has been big.

He weighed 10 pounds, two ounces at birth, and ate a fish sandwich from McDonald’s before his first birthday. By the second grade, he was wearing men’s clothing. His mother has to order his size 15 shoes from catalogs.

Now the Marlington High School senior offensive tackle isn’t just big any more. He’s strong. His feet move well. He’s smart. And it doesn’t hurt to be 6-foot-5, 300 pounds moving earth and man on Friday nights.

“There’s never been a huge growth spurt that made me this big,” Higgins said. “I’ve been big my whole life. But I didn’t start to get more athletic and more toned up ... until I started wrestling. I started wrestling in the eighth grade and didn’t lose a match so I figured I’d stay with it.”

Success on the mat helped convince him he could be a great athlete. But it didn’t come without reservations.

“It’s a great sport, and it’s hard, but honestly I don’t like it a lot of times,” Higgins said. “I have to keep doing it because it’s good for me.”

Higgins is the middle of three boys in the family. His older brother, Chris, plays football at Lake Erie College. His younger brother, Ben, is in middle school, and plays football.

Kids without this kind of size in the family — their dad, Cecil Higgins, is 6-foot, 230 pounds — earn their way to big.

“My gosh, Zach has always eaten a lot,” his mother, Kim said. “He doesn’t eat junk food. I cook a lot. All three of the boys like to eat, but Zach and Chris particularly eat a lot.”

A week’s worth of groceries will cost $250, and that does not include the side of beef the family orders a few times each year.

Size is one thing.

Toughness is another.

Cecil Higgins retired from Chrysler. He worked a tough job as a millwright. In his spare time now, Cecil hunts bears. This past spring, he went to Russia, where he shot a 91⁄2-foot tall bear that weighed more than 900 pounds. Safari Club International said the bear will rank as the 49th-largest bear hunted in the world.

A little while back, the boys were lifting weights at the house. They had 250 pounds on the rack to bench press. Cecil wanted to make sure his boys knew, even at 65, he could still handle himself.

“I lifted it about five or six times,” Cecil said. “Their eyes were as big saucers. ... They’re big boys, but they have a lot of respect for their dad. I just tell them I know where they sleep.

“I’m old fashioned. These kids know how to respect adults. There aren’t too many people who are ever gonna say the Higgins boys aren’t good kids.”

michigan state-bound

It wasn’t until Zach was a freshman that he first noticed that football could be his ticket to an education. One of the freshmen coaches pulled Zach aside at the end of the season.

“He told me to keep working hard and doing things with my foot speed,” Higgins said. “He thought I had a chance to play Division I football.”

So did more than a dozen college coaches. After Marlington’s season a year ago with Higgins opening huge holes for All-Ohio running back Alden Hill, Michigan State had Higgins at the top of its recruiting list. He verbally committed there in the spring.

Coming from where Higgins does, he saw right through a lot of the phony recruiting lines. His father is plain spoken and to the point. His boys are the same way.

“Coach (Mark) Dantonio treated me like family,” Higgins said. “They don’t try to feed you a lot of crap. They’re real with you. They make you feel like you belong to this big family there, whereas some colleges you go to it’s more like a business trip.

“I think if you look at the Big Ten, Michigan State is going to be the team to beat. They were co-Big Ten champs last year. It feels good to know I’m going to a team that will contend for a Big Ten title, and they can contend for a national title.”

His focus, though, is on this season with the Dukes.

Marlington has a lofty goal and a sour taste in its mouth. The Dukes were knocked out of the playoffs last year in a lopsided loss to Buchtel. They want to win a state title this year.

Head coach Ed Miley is not making predictions. But he knows his offense is bolstered by having a Higgins on the line.

“He’s a mauler inside, and he’s very athletic,” Miley said. “He’s a 3.8 student. He was one match away from wrestling for a state title. I think he is gonna be a good player for (Michigan State) because he can do so much.”

After this season, and before he leaves for college, his work on the family’s 20-acre farm isn’t finished. Cecil is planning to head back to Russia after a hunting trip to Africa. He wants to find out if his son is tough enough to hunt bears in the cold and snow of Russia.

“I’m proud of him,” Cecil Higgins said. “He’s worked hard. He studies hard. I don’t have to tell him to study. He just does it. He’s a very, very responsible young man. He knows what he has to do. That’s facing responsibility.”