Six yards from leaving, Higdon is back with bigger goals

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Karan Higdon

Chicago — Six yards.

That’s what stood between Michigan running back Karan Higdon leaving for the NFL after last season and returning to play for the Wolverines this fall. There were other factors, but that Higdon finished with 994 yards, just missing the magical 1,000-yard rushing total was a big one, if only symbolically.

“I was very close. If I touched 1,000, I was leaving,” Higdon said this week during Big Ten media days.

“It wasn’t meant to happen. That’s how I look at it. It wasn’t meant to happen and it only put me in a better position to achieve that this year.”

Higdon certainly is not disappointed with his decision and will be counted on to be a leader on offense. Had he reached the 1,000-yard threshold, though, he probably wouldn’t have been at media days.

“I think there was a feeling if I got 1,000, I was going to leave,” Higdon said. “I felt like I left a lot on the field that I had more to prove which is why I came back. Of course (my teammates) embraced me. They wanted nothing more than to have me back. That’s the family aspect.”

More: UM's Higdon views bowl loss as a 'turning point' for '18

There’s more to deciding to leave college with eligibility remaining, but for a running back a 1,000-yard season is a magical mark and a possible springboard to the NFL. Higdon was the Wolverines’ offensive Player of the Year and was All-Big Ten third team.

“You would be amazed how much having four numbers as opposed to three would make a difference in the eye of an NFL scout,” Higdon said.

Missing that mark has only served as added motivation during the offseason.

“Somewhere along the line I took a shortcut that I shouldn’t have,” Higdon said.

Higdon is different entering this season — different looking physically. He was listed at 5-10, 189 pounds on the last roster but has added 15 to 16 pounds and is now 205. He has praised new strength coach Ben Herbert for his physical transformation.

He considers himself in the top handful of the strongest players on the team.

“Knowing what I feel with 15 pounds now, I definitely wish I would have had this last year,” he said.

More: Harbaugh: QBs improved, still waiting for 'the guy' to emerge

Higdon and Chris Evans are the Wolverines' top two returning backs. Evans also has added bulk and worked this spring on pass protection.

They are different types of backs which make them the kind of one-two punch that could generate a consistent run game behind an offensive line that still has to show it has improved.

But there’s no doubt in Higdon’s mind where he stands on the depth chart.

“Of course I look at myself as the No. 1 back, but that’s (Evans) my brother and he’s a great player and he’s going to do his job, too,” Higdon said. “Putting us both on that pedestal, at the end of the day, regardless who is starting the game and who is finishing, we’re both going to leave it on the field and do damage. However it happens, it happens.

“A lot of guys see it as 1A, 1B, however you want to see it. At the end of the day, whoever is in the game is going to dominate regardless if it’s me or it’s Chris. That’s how I look at it.”

Higdon learned a lot about himself as a player last year. He had two 200-yard games, but he also had some less productive games, sometimes because of the game plan and sometimes because of the lack of blocking up front.

Regardless, he found himself taking his game to another level.

“I just saw it as me fighting,” he said. “I’m going to lay it on the line each and every game, each and every play for my teammates. I know in the game of football it’s never going to go perfect. There’s always going to be a mistake. The objective of the game, though, is to make the least mistakes. If I have to make two three guys miss, I’m just laying it on the line.”

Higdon doesn’t mince words about what he believes the team’s goal is this fall — national championship or bust.

“You’ve got to shoot for that,” he said. “Why not? It’s either all or nothing. You’re not going to go for it all, why are you doing it in the first place?”

He also intends to reach the high expectations he has set for himself.

“I expect nothing less but to have a tremendous season,” Higdon said. “I’ve got guys around me who want the same for me and I want the same for them. If I’m having a great season, that means my offensive line is doing their thing and so is my quarterback and receivers. And I want nothing more but for them to have the success that they have because that only puts me in a better position to excel.

“If I came back, I wanted to make sure I took advantage of everything that was at hand. If that was achieving 1,000 yards, 1,500 yards, whatever it is, I wanted to put myself in the best position that I don’t leave anything behind. I’m going to leave it all out on the field and ultimately coming back has a lot to do with it.”