Sophomore Seth Higgins likes to think of himself as a student of the game. This offseason, Morgan State coach Donald Hill-Eley found out first-hand just how intent his starting quarterback is on becoming a football scholar.
"Seth was always in the office. It was almost like he was employed," Hill-Eley said. "I mean, seeing the copier machine was just like seeing Seth. He was going to be there, and he was going to put the time into watching film and learning what's expected."
It's that kind of commitment that has Morgan football fans buzzing about the former Edgewood standout, who started the team's final seven games as a true freshman, throwing for 1,116 yards and nine touchdowns. Twice he was named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week.
At 6 feet 5, 225 pounds, Higgins has all the requisite physical tools to become a star, unafraid to show off his strong, accurate arm and ability to outrun defenders. But taking the next step, he knows, is also about mastering the game mentally.
"A lot of football, and definitely playing quarterback, is mental," Higgins said. "So the more I know, the faster I can play and not second-guess myself on the field. All last year was a learning experience. It helped me grow in every aspect of my game."
Much of that growth, quite literally, took place at Edgewood High.
Coach Fred Myers recalls Higgins as "kind of a dumpy kid" playing defensive end as a sophomore. Toward the end of the season, he had asked to try out at quarterback, but failed to impress.
"He had these big feet like a puppy dog and it just didn't seem to work," Myers said.
Following a growth spurt over the summer, however, Higgins "had grown into those feet."
As impressive as he became physically, it was the junior's loyalty and integrity that really caught the attention of his coach, whose team spent two straight seasons on the road while the school was being rebuilt.
"His junior year, he was practicing on the side of a hill between two portables," said Myers, who lost players by the dozens. "Other coaches started to notice that he had some talent. He could have left us and gone to another school, but he didn't. He hung in there tough with us."
It was Higgins, in fact, who rallied teammates to a nearby elementary school for summer workouts.
And with a college career in sight, he spent countless hours honing his skills at quarterback, and just as many improving his performance in the classroom. Soon, coaches from Morgan State and Towson became regular attendees at games.
"It seemed like whenever we weren't in the house, [Towson coach Rob] Ambrose was in the house," Hill-Eley said. "It was like we became roommates."
Then, midway through his senior year, his dream nearly came to an end.
Attempting to drive his team to a score just before halftime against Rising Sun, Higgins rolled out, tucked the ball and took off toward the end zone. He was met hard by two defenders, who drove him into the turf, separating his shoulder.
Higgins was forced to the sidelines for several games, and recruiting came to a standstill.
"I felt so bad for him. I would talk to coaches about him, but because of the injury he didn't have any stats," Myers said. "He had no stats whatsoever. I would tell other coaches, 'He's a diamond in the rough, and if you give this kid a chance he's going to shine.'"
While Towson offered him the opportunity to walk-on, his lone Division I scholarship offer came from Morgan. He eagerly accepted.
By the fifth game of last season — with the Bears averaging just 10 points a game — he had been thrust into the role of starting quarterback.
"Coach Hill would always tell me, 'Keep working, keep working. You've got a bright future, and the future doesn't have to be far,'" Higgins recalled. "But I never expected to play that early. It sort of just came up on me, and I had to be prepared."
In just his second start, the freshman completed 14 of 24 passes for 239 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-17 win over Savannah State. It marked the first time a Bears quarterback had thrown four touchdown passes in a game since 2001.
A week later, he followed that by completing 13 of 18 with a pair of scores against North Carolina Central. Now, Morgan State enters this season with its most stable situation behind center since Bradshaw Littlejohn's senior year in 2004.
"We feel better than we have probably in the past four or five years in that position," Hill-Eley said. "He is probably a quarterback with NFL-caliber potential. He has the size, the range, the throws. He's a smart, heady kid, and he's one of those guys who could really become an NFL player."
If that should happen some day, his former high school coach will think back to the early days of his career, and smile.
"I tell my team the story of Seth Higgins," Myers said. "At anytime, he could've bagged it and gone the other way. He did it mostly on his own."
COACH: Donald Hill-Eley (11th season)
CONFERENCE: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
LAST YEAR: 5-6
RADIO: 88.9 FM
STADIUM: Hughes Stadium
TICKETS: $30 reserved,
$20 general admission,
$15 seniors (65-over)
$10 students, faculty and staff
PARKING: $10 in campus garage
OFFENSE: Multiple spread
DEFENSE: Multiple 4-3
OUTLOOK: Following consecutive losing seasons, Morgan State may now have the talent and veteran leadership to ascend to the upper echelon of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Bears feature 24 seniors, the most since Hill-Eley took over the program in 2002, as well as one of the league's top young quarterbacks in sophomore Seth Higgins. Starting last season as a true freshman, the Edgewood product threw for 1,116 yards and nine touchdowns over the team's final seven games. He will get plenty of help from senior running back Travis Davidson (732 yards, seven touchdowns), who ranked fourth in the MEAC in rushing. Along with a senior-laden offensive line, the Bears will strive to improve an offense that last season ranked 117th out of 120 teams in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, averaging just 271 yards per game. Defensively, the team returns 12 players who started at least three games each a year ago, led by linebacker Richard Ndubueze (four sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss), a preseason all-league pick, and cornerback Kenneth Ridley, who ranked second in the league with four interceptions. If there's one statistic favoring the Bears, it's the schedule. Each of their first eight opponents produced a losing record last season, going a combined 25-65.