Jay Higgins stars in 2023 debut against Utah State

Jay Higgins entered the 2023 season with one of the toughest tasks on the Iowa football team. Not only was he being asked to step in as the full-time starting middle linebacker, he was to replace one of the program’s legends.

A player like Jack Campbell only comes around every so often. He was the heart and soul of the Hawkeye defense over the past two seasons. He won nearly every award available to a linebacker, including the Butkus Award. He was a first-round NFL draft pick, no small feat for a linebacker in today’s game.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker has placed a lot of trust in Higgins, a senior finally earning his spot as the starter in his defense. With the elevated role, Higgins shined in his season debut against Utah State.

Higgins had himself quite a day against the Aggies, totaling 16 total tackles. He led the Hawkeyes with 12 solo tackles. Cooper DeJean was second with four solo tackles.

“It’s what you would expect,” Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz said about his star linebacker after the game. “Not 16 maybe, but he is a guy that even though, quote, unquote, wasn’t a starter last year, we’ve always considered Jay to be a starter. He is a strong leader. Just a tremendous young guy. Totally committed.

“So, yeah, we’re counting on him. And the same thing with Nick. For us to be good on defense, our linebackers, our safeties have to be good tacklers and just really happy about Jay’s play. Also his leadership is invaluable.”

When asked about his big performance after the game, the senior from Indianapolis gave an answer that would make Kirk Ferentz blush.

“Expectations are external and the standard is internal. I feel like if you put any linebacker that wears the Tiger Hawk (in the situation) he would have did the same thing,” Higgins said.

According to the senior linebacker, it’s all about trying to live up to the standard of Iowa football. Leading the Big Ten in solo and total tackles after the first week is certainly doing just that for Higgins.

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Story originally appeared on Hawkeyes Wire