Nervous Citadel recruits await new football coach
Current Citadel players were not the only ones surprised at Monday's news that Bulldogs head coach Kevin Higgins is leaving to be an assistant coach at Wake Forest.
The high school seniors that Citadel coaches are recruiting also need some time to digest the news.
"It was pretty shocking," said quarterback Jalen Lampkin of Augusta, Ga., who has verbally committed to The Citadel. "I actually found out from my dad, when he called me and said I might want to call the coach who was recruiting me."
Lampkin called defensive coordinator Denny Doornbos, who assured him that his scholarship offer from The Citadel still stood.
"I was excited about that," said Lampkin, who attends Westside High School in Augusta. "As of right now, I'm still committed to The Citadel and I'm pretty strong on that. The only thing I worry about now is I hope they get a coach who runs the triple option, because that's what fits me."
Lampkin is not the only high school player wondering how he will fit into the plans of the next Citadel coach. The Bulldogs have six verbal commitments as of now, and will likely sign about 20 players to national letters of intent on signing day in February.
Linebacker Russell Hubbs committed to The Citadel before his Northwestern High School team defeated Stratford in the Division II-AAAA state title game.
"I was very surprised," Hubbs said Tuesday. "But I talked to one of the assistants, and he explained how college football is a business and these things happen."
Hubbs' father, Eric, said the uncertainty is a bit unsettling.
"We got to know the coaches down there, and Russell really felt comfortable with Coach Higgins and the entire coaching staff," Eric Hubbs said. "That's something Russell will have to adjust to."
As Citadel assistants wonder about their own futures, they must try to hold together the recruiting class they've been working so hard to put together over the last few weeks. Most of that work will fall to recruiting coordinator J.P. Gunter, who was on the road Tuesday.
Higgins, who is leaving The Citadel after nine years to be associate head coach and wide receiver coach at Wake Forest, said he will do what he can to help hold the class together.
"I sat down with our staff and one thing I shared with them is that the new coach will come in and interview each guy," Higgins said. "And typically in this business, if you have a lot of recruits, that will help you stay at your position. So that's the first thing, hold on to your recruits."
Higgins also said he will tell recruits that the school is more important than the head coach.
"I've told them that the school is much bigger than Kevin Higgins," he said. "I've told them, you are going to The Citadel for things you can't get at other places. This is a special place."
Citadel coaches have recruited the last four classes to fit the triple-option offense, and Higgins said keeping some form of the option is important going forward.
"I think having an element of the option is really beneficial to this program," he said. "You need that to be successful here. But you don't have to be under center, you don't have to do the traditional triple-option things. You can expand some, and I think there's enough depth now to get that done."
That message resonates with Lampkin, a 5-10, 185-pounder who is also a baseball standout at Westside.
"Even if (Higgins) is not there, I still loved the school when I went down there," he said. "That's why I committed."
Russell Hubbs also said he remains committed to The Citadel.
"It's a great education for your future after college," he said. "That's why I committed there."
Citadel athletic director Larry Leckonby said getting a new coach in place in short order is important - but not as important as finding the right coach.
"That is a concern, based on the timing," he said of recruiting. "But we want to make sure we get the right fit for The Citadel. So I don't think we'll put a time frame on it, but at the same time I don't want to lose a full recruiting year if at all possible."
Other Citadel commitments include offensive lineman Sydney Martin of Byrnes High School, and wide receiver A'Lenico Graham of Flowery Branch, Ga.