Michigan football's Karan Higdon ready to leave it all on the field

Nick Baumgardner
Detroit Free Press

If Karan Higdon had held onto the football and made one more cut, his Michigan football career might have been over. 

"If I touched 1,000 (yards)," Michigan's now senior running back says. "I was leaving." 

Higdon is many things: A talented football player, a dedicated father, a person with a strong sense of community. He owns a pet snake named Poncho, he's not bashful about his own style and he knows how to keep things positive with a smile. 

But if there's a singular thread that ties the serious and softer sides of Higdon's personality together, it's his blunt honesty.

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Michigan running back Karan Higdon (22) runs towards the end zone during the first half of a game against Minnesota at the Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Saturday, November 4, 2017.

So if Higdon hadn't fumbled the ball on the 5-yard line in the Outback Bowl, or if he found a way to evade one more tackler later in the game, he was gone. But he didn't. He finished six yards shy of his goal last season. One broken tackle here, one better read there and a new chapter may have started.

He told reporters he was thinking about leaving for the NFL at the close of his junior year, and while many observers questioned that desire, Higdon meant every word of it.

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"But it wasn't meant to happen," he says now. "That's how I look at it. And it's only put me in a better position to achieve (more) this year." 

A football season is nothing more than a collection of singular moments and decisions that result in a greater body of work. Defining moments happen every game, but the hundreds of little steps took place before the highlight is what typically spells the difference between a happy locker room and an angry one. 

So when Higdon sees his final tally of 994 yards in 2017, he does so from a wider lens than most. 

He finished the year as Michigan's top back, but it took him a full five games to earn that distinction when the season began. He can't point to one specific moment as the reason why he fell just 18 feet short of his goal because there's a bigger picture here. 

And a larger lesson, too. 

“I don’t think I left it on the field (in the bowl game), but I think it also had to do with previous games, previous practices," Higdon says now. "Somewhere along the line, I took a shortcut I shouldn’t have and I felt it.”

Karan Higdon celebrates his 49-yard touchdown run against Rutgers with Michigan fans in the fourth quarter Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017 at Michigan Stadium.

From an intangible standpoint, Higdon is the model for what Jim Harbaugh wants in a running back. It's been that way since Michigan's staff pleaded with him to catch a 5 a.m. flight into a snowstorm for a visit to Ann Arbor just days before signing day in 2015. 

He's a decisive downhill runner with disciplined vision and a willingness to stretch two yards into four. He doesn't make excuses or whine about how many touches he gets during a game. He plays hurt. He ran as hard during mop-up duty as a true freshman as he did during a four-game stretch that produced more than 600 yards last season. 

He showed up to Michigan with his mouth shut, ready to work. Little has changed. He's far from bashful when it comes to self-confidence. For Michigan, there's a lot to like there. 

"Karan Higdon is an outstanding football player," Harbaugh says bluntly. 

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Higdon and junior back Chris Evans combine to give Michigan its most proven offensive entity heading into the 2018 season. Together, the duo rushed for 1,679 yards and 17 touchdowns last season while playing in an offense that struggled with inconsistency. 

They both believe they're good enough to be the top dog on their own, but they're supportive enough to understand that each deserves an opportunity to show what they can do. Harbaugh says he views them as co-starters. 

“That’s my brother, he’s a great player and he’s going to do a good job, too,” Higdon says of Evans. “I know regardless of who starts and who finishes, we’re both going to leave it on the field and do damage.”

Michigan's Karan Higdon scores a 12-yard touchdown in the first half against Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.

Which brings us back to the central theme of Higdon's final year. 

He was close to 1,000 yards last season. He played on a team that suffered four close losses. He's been part of a program that's been close to greatness since he got here. Everything's been close. But nothing's been finalized. 

Higdon's pledge to himself, and his teammates, is that he'll leave every bit of his bodyon the field in an effort to check off every goal on the list. He wants to be the best running back in the country, he wants to win a national championship, he wants to play in the NFL, and he wants to make a difference when football's over. 

And he plans on never being six yards short again. 

“It’s either all or nothing,” he says. “So if you’re not going for it all, then why do it in the first place?”

Contact Nick Baumgardner: nbaumgardn@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner. 

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