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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Higgins' numbers don't lie

By Kalani Takase
Advertiser Staff Writer

Cameron Higgins doesn't get caught up in the numbers. He'd much rather take one "W" over 300-yard passing games or five-touchdown performances.

Last season, the Weber State quarterback put up huge numbers, passing for a school-record 4,460 yards with 36 touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to a 10-3 record and a berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA playoffs. He was named Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP and earned Third Team All-America honors from The Sporting News.

Higgins, a 2006 Saint Louis School graduate from Hawai'i Kai, was recently named to the watch list for The Walter Payton Award, which is given annually to the top player in FCS. Higgins, who finished sixth in the final voting for last year's Payton Award, has already been named to several preseason All-America teams. Despite the recognition, Higgins knows he won't have to shoulder the load on his own.

"We've got a lot of returning players and good leadership," said Higgins, noting senior running back Trevyn Smith, who rushed for 1,585 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. "I think a lot of the defenses we come across worry about him and they end up loading the box, which gives us some nice one-on-one matchups outside. That makes it easy for me."

Higgins, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound redshirt junior, said the Wildcats' offense is "pretty balanced," but he has no qualms about keeping it on the ground.

"I don't really care about my numbers, just as long as we can win games," he said. "If I have to hand the ball off every down to win the game, then I'll do that."

Last September, Weber State put a scare into the University of Hawai'i after it took a 17-7 lead at halftime in the Warriors' home opener. UH scored the final 29 points to win 36-17, but the loss was a confidence-builder for the Wildcats.

"We really had nothing to lose, everyone already expected us to lose," said Higgins, who threw for 233 yards and a touchdown. "We gave it our all and came up short, but it was OK, because we found out that we could hang with (Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly I-A) guys. It was a good experience and it gave us some confidence."

Weber State went on to win eight of its next nine games and a share of the Big Sky title. Higgins passed for 399 yards and two touchdowns as the Wildcats beat Cal Poly, 49-35, in the first round of the FCS playoffs. However, their season came to an end with a 24-13 loss to conference-rival Montana the following week — a team WSU beat two months prior.

"I think the Cal Poly game took a lot out of our football team," said Wildcats head coach Ron McBride, noting his team played back-to-back road games. "But, they watched the other playoff games on TV last year and now they know that they were good enough last year to go all the way."

Higgins, who completed 66 percent of his passes last season, said the goal for this year is clear: win a national title.

"We got a taste of the playoffs last year," he said, "and falling short just motivated us to work harder in the off season to try and get to the championship game."

Among the 13 returning starters is one of Higgins' favorite targets, senior tight end Cody Nakamura, a 2005 Baldwin alumnus from Wailuku. Nakamura, who is 6-1 and 215 pounds, was third on the team in receptions (48) and receiving yards (729). He led all receivers with 10 touchdowns and is also a preseason All-America selection.

"We always hang out together, so we're always talking about things that we see on the field and that kind of gives us a feel of what each other will do," Higgins said. "He has such good hands, I can put the ball anywhere around him and he'll come down with it. He's a smart guy, he knows how to read defenses, so it's definitely good to have him."

Others from Hawai'i on the Wildcats' roster are defensive linemen Christian Gibson (Kalaheo '05 of Kailua) and Ryan Eastman (Saint Louis '08 of Honolulu), quarterback Mike Hoke (Kamehameha '08 of Kailua) and safety Zach Higgins (Saint Louis '07 of Hawai'i Kai) — Cameron's younger brother.

Cameron Higgins has been working out at his alma mater this summer with former position coach Vince Passas before he returns to Utah next week.

"I've just been trying to be more consistent, improve my accuracy and have better footwork," Higgins said. "You can have all the accolades, but still lose the game."

WSU opens its season with road games against FBS opponents Wyoming (Sept. 5) and Colorado State (Sept. 12).

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