CLEMSON — Tee Higgins insists he doesn’t like to compare himself to other wide receivers.
He knows the natural inclination is to assess his skillset against that of former Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams or even that of now-NFL bound Deon Cain, and given that Clemson is in the process of developing its next lanky, athletic, marquee receiver, those comparisons seem fair. After all, it was Higgins who had four catches for 118 yards Saturday in Clemson’s annual spring game, and it was Higgins who dropped jaws with a 50-yard score on a dime from the arm of freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence in traffic. Those 50-50 balls, Higgins said, should become 80-20 balls in his favor, and it appears he is well on his way toward a breakout year in 2018.
But still, Higgins articulated Saturday, he wants to be evaluated on his own merit. He likes to think he has his own style.
“I try to be myself, and that’s really my goal,” the sophomore Clemson wide receiver said. “Just be myself and just make a name for myself.”
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have influences, though. And as coincidence has it, the one wide receiver whom Higgins has always wanted to model his game after comes straight from the Lowcountry.
Higgins, a native of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is a longtime fan of one of Summerville High School’s very own.
“I really like A.J. Green,” Higgins said of the former Georgia player who played under John McKissick at Summerville. “That’s why I’m a Cincinnati Bengals fan now. He’s pretty good.”
And it isn’t too far a leap to see the similarities between the two.
At 6-4, 200 pounds, the physical makeup of Higgins is not much different from Green’s, who is 6-4, 210 — the exact target weight Higgins has in mind this summer when he enters Clemson’s weight room with the intentions of adding anywhere between seven and 10 pounds of muscle.
Like the 29-year-old Green, what stands out about the young Higgins is his leaping ability and his sheer athleticism, a testament to his high school basketball days. Both receivers make their mark by outjumping defenders in traffic, they both have a large catch radius thanks to their long wingspans, they both have great hands and they both have proven that coming down with the deep balls in heavy coverage is a staple of their skillsets.
Higgins was so good Saturday and turned so many heads that it became clear he has to be in contention for a starting role once fall camp begins in August. Co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Jeff Scott has been particularly impressed with how much more consistent Higgins has become with his releases, and in turn, that has led to all sorts of increased confidence for the former reserve on the 2017 squad.
For Green’s part, he turned a standout college career at Georgia into becoming the fourth overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft. Higgins has at least two more years at Clemson until the professional ranks are a possibility. But there is no denying Higgins wants to follow in the footsteps of his favorite receiver, and Saturday only helped his cause in laying the groundwork for 2018.
“Tee Higgins had an unbelievable day. I asked him if he stayed at a Holiday Inn Express (Friday) night," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, referring to the popular television commercial. "I didn’t know what was going on, and he said, ‘Nah, I’m just trying to be your starting 9-man.' I said that’s a good answer and a good way to do it, but a great day for him.”
That became obvious. Quickly.