METAIRIE, La. – Michael Higgins nearly left Beatrice High School in Nebraska on a path to play basketball at an NAIA level.
Instead, he merged onto a path that would take him to Division II Nebraska-Omaha to play football.
As the knight tells Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade, he chose wisely.
Higgins is now on a path to being a key role player for the New Orleans Saints, the third tight end capable of doing whatever it is the team needs him to do.
“My senior year coming out of high school I thought I might play college basketball,” Higgins said Saturday. “And then I realized that somebody my size playing college basketball, there’s a million guys that are 6-foot-5 that can play basketball.”
So, while he doesn’t stand out at tight end like Jimmy Graham does and has no otherworldly talent that separates him from anyone else, he makes up for it with smarts and consistency.
And that’s something the Saints and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. hope to be able to take advantage of this season.
“He’s a sharp kid as well,” Carmichael said. “I think he has a little bit of a uniqueness at that position that we feel like we can be a pass receiving tight end as well as a blocking tight end.”
Added tight end coach Terry Malone, “What gives him an advantage is that he’s really smart, he’s really tough and he’s very accountable so you know when he goes in there, he’s going to know what to do and he’s going to do the best he can to get his job done.”
Higgins could be the next undrafted player to make his name known in New Orleans, following the likes of last year’s surprises Jed Collins and Brian de la Puente.
He’s already partly there. After impressing the team enough during 2011 preseason to earn a spot on the practice squad, the 6-foot-5, 242-pounder was bumped up to the active roster the final five weeks of the season.
He caught a four-yard pass against Carolina in the season finale and a 10-yard catch against San Francisco in the NFC playoffs.
Higgins was a standout at Division II Nebraska-Omaha, playing in 44 games. As a senior, he finished with 39 catches for 600 yards and seven touchdowns. As a junior he led Division II tight ends in catching 50 passes for 848 yards and nine touchdowns.
New Orleans has its star tight end in Graham. It has its jack of all trades tight end in David Thomas should he stay healthy.
What it needs is a rugged run-blocking tight end and Higgins might be that guy.
“But the biggest thing you see in him is the ability to block from the perimeter right now,” acting head coach Joe Vitt said. “I’ve said this before and I think that any player who’s second year in the league benefits because they’ve had that rookie year to learn the game and learn the system.”
In spite of his small-college pedigree, he has caught the eye of veterans, including right tackle Zach Strief.
“Mike has no fear,” Strief said. “He’s going to get his head in there. He’s going to get his face in there. He’s going to throw his body around. I think he has proven, not just in practice, but in games that he can get in and block people.”