Iowa linebacker Jay Higgins experiences full-circle moment after ‘trusting the process’ in first three years with Hawkeyes

John SteppeJohn Steppe
INDIANAPOLIS — An onslaught of media commitments awaited Iowa linebacker Jay Higgins when he arrived at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Wednesday morning in a well-tailored, navy-blue suit.
But first, he and his teammates took advantage of a few free minutes and made their way to a small elevator in the southwest corner of the stadium.
After the short elevator ride from event level to street level — and a crowded elevator ride when factoring in the three Iowa players, an Iowa sports information director, the elevator operator and a reporter — some familiar faces greeted Higgins.
The foursome, each donning either a Hawkeye jersey, shirt or button, was his family — specifically his mother, father, sister and niece.
“It meant a lot to see my family,” said Higgins, who grew up in the Indianapolis area, later in the afternoon.
The quasi-family reunion was largely a result of the fourth-year linebacker “trusting the process” at Iowa.
Higgins’ role in his first two seasons was mostly on special teams. Only 10 of his 55 snaps as a freshman in 2020 were on defense, per Pro Football Focus, and 39 of his 239 snaps as a sophomore were on defense.
It looked like the trend was going to continue in 2023. He exclusively played on special teams in Iowa’s first two games.
But a season-ending injury to linebacker Jestin Jacobs opened a first-team spot. Logan Klemp initially replaced Jacobs, but then Higgins took over as Iowa’s third linebacker early in the season.
Jay Higgins’ opportunity is probably long overdue,” linebackers coach Seth Wallace said last year. “We knew what we had in Jay Higgins. I think Jay Higgins knew what we had in him. The unfortunate thing was there was a party ahead of him that was doing some good things.”
That party included Jack Campbell, the first Butkus Award winner in program history. Seth Benson was a second-team all-Big Ten honoree last year.
But Higgins remained patient.
“I felt like Iowa was always my home,” Higgins said. “I knew it was a place where I could thrive, and I felt comfortable to stay.”
It helps that his “best friends are at the University of Iowa.”
“The relationship I have with coach Wallace — I would want nothing more than to make coach Wallace and coach (Phil) Parker proud.”
Now, Higgins is one of the leaders on Iowa’s defense.
“You gravitate and our players all gravitate to him,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said Wednesday. “He doesn’t have the experience of Campbell, Benson, but he’s just been so strong in our program since he showed up.”
Higgins did not have the highest-profile recruitment, mostly receiving scholarship offers from schools in the Mid-American Conference, but it seems to have worked out well in the long run.
“If I had all the schools in the world, I probably think I’d choose Iowa again,” Higgins said.
Higgins “wanted to go somewhere where I was coached extremely hard and expectations were high.”
Iowa offered him a scholarship in June 2019, and Higgins “got off the market right after that.”
“Really didn’t want to hear from anybody else who saw the Iowa offer and then wanted to start recruiting me,” Higgins said.
Fast-forward to 2023, and when Ferentz asked Higgins to be one of Iowa’s three player representatives at the Big Ten’s football media days, it was a “no-brainer” for Higgins.
“I was on the plane looking out the window at places I recognize,” Higgins said. “It’s always good to be back.”
The field where Higgins took questions from reporters was the same field he played on in the high school state championship his sophomore year.
“They lost, but he played well,” his father Roy said. “I was proud of him. He played with rebuff.”
Higgins said it was “hard to get involved as a linebacker” because of the pass-heavy opposing offense, but that’s not his only memory from playing on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf.
“I remember the lights still being this bright,” Higgins said from a stage set up between the 25 and 30-yard lines. “It’s always this bright.”
Should Iowa accomplish what it wants to accomplish, Higgins could have another chance to be under those bright lights in the Big Ten championship game.
“That’d be pretty big for us,” said Higgins, who noted his parents could drive 15 minutes to Lucas Oil Stadium instead of the typical five-plus hours to Iowa City.
Back at the street level of Lucas Oil Stadium on Wednesday shortly after 10 a.m. local time, Roy Higgins made sure to get a selfie with Jay and teammates Luke Lachey and Cooper DeJean.
“He seemed like he was more excited to see Cooper and Lachey than he was to see me,” Higgins said lightheartedly.
Higgins, Lachey and DeJean then proceeded back to the southwest elevator on their way back to the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium. While the moment was brief, the memory will not be for Higgins.
“It’s always good to be back,” Higgins said. “It would have been really challenging coming all the way back to Indianapolis and not seeing them.”

Latest Player Notes

If that really was Drake Maye’s last game in Chapel Hill, it provided a fitting full-circle ending

UPDATED NOVEMBER 13, 2023 2:49 PMHere was Drake Maye in the middle of it all late Saturday night, in the middle of the kind ...

Shedeur Sanders closing in on CU Buffs single-season records through pain of all the sacks and hits

PUBLISHED November 13, 2023 at 12:38 p.m. | UPDATED: November 13, 2023 at 12:40 p.m.BOULDER — Shedeur Sanders is closing ...

Tenth Anniversary of Kick Six: Inside video, "Official" look at Historic Iron Bowl Shocker

Published Nov. 13, 2023, 6:00 a.m.By Creg Stephenson See and hear history behind Kick Six (excuse the ads, but this is ...

Goodman: Jimbo Fisher is out and Nick Saban wins again

Updated: Nov. 13, 2023, 10:00 a.m.|By Joseph GoodmanJimbo Fisher is out at Texas A&M, which goes to show that even when a ...

Huard on Huskies: Why a win over No. 10 Oregon St would be huge

The No. 5 UW Huskies’ quest to make the College Football Playoff went through the two-time defending Pac-12 champions on ...

USC’s loss to Oregon exposes clear flaws in program-building up front

EUGENE, Ore. — In January, Lincoln Riley was on the sidelines at SoFi for the College Football Playoff championship game, ...

Two years after winning school-record 12 games, Brady Hoke out as Aztecs football coach

Brady Hoke is out as San Diego State’s football coach.SDSU released a statement Monday morning saying that Hoke is retiring, ...

Oregon’s Bo Nix named Pac-12 offensive player of the week for third time in 2023

Oregon’s Bo Nix earned his third weekly honor from the Pac-12.Nix, who went 23 of 31 for a season-high 412 yards with four ...

Oregon Ducks’ head coach Dan Lanning mentioned as a leading candidate for Texas A&M job

Oregon Ducks head coach Dan Lanning has been mentioned as a leading candidate to replace Jimbo Fisher as coach of the Texas ...

After ‘tough day,’ Boise State AD searches for a football coach; defensive analyst promoted

Boise State athletic director Jeramiah Dickey was on the job for less than a week the last time he began a search for a football ...
See More Player Notes