Former Konawaena senior quarterback Garrison Higgins couldn’t have picked a more challenging spot to play football in Utah, where he landed at Westlake High, which plays in the 6A region, the highest division in the state.
The Thunder are 2-4, including 0-1 in their league with a home date against No. 14 Corner Canyon on Oct. 1. By then, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound QB will have seven games on film for college coaches to evaluate, a decision that factored heavily in his move to Utah.
Higgins’ junior season was wiped out by COVID-19, and he last played on the junior varsity in 2019. He and his dad, Garry Higgins, moved to Saratoga Springs, Utah in early July, a week before school started.
“I was not confident Hawaii would have a football season,” he said. “My dad is in construction, and there’s a lot of construction in Saratoga Springs and a lot of opportunities.
“I’m so thankful to my dad, who supports my sport and future. He was pushing this to get over here. I knew I needed game film for college.”
The schedule is much tougher than anything Higgins would have faced if he remained at Konawaena, which unfortunately resides in the same BIIF Division I level as Hilo. In 2019, the Vikings hammered the Wildcats 42-18 for their seventh straight BIIF championship.
“It’s like Saint Louis and Kahuku,” he said. “In our region, we have Corner Canyon, 14th in the nation. They’re not the only good team. There are others on our schedule.”
In the first two games, Higgins split time with another quarterback, but by the third game he secured the job.
“My dad was super proud of me,” he said. “He was stoked that I have a lot of film now.”
The Thunder run a shotgun offense with triple receivers and occasionally feature a pro set with two running backs. He’s got a diverse passing route tree that gives him shots down the field and check-offs to receivers on crossing routes
“We’ve got a decent amount of deep routes and crossing routes, mesh routes to throw the defensive backs off, in-breaking routes to throw across the middle,” he said.
Higgins is talking to a few schools, and has made full use of social media, the new generation’s most powerful recruiting tool.
“Twitter is super useful to contact coaches and get their attention,” said Higgins, who’s looking to major in either engineering or business.
The house they’re renting is 10 minutes from school, and nearby is a lake where father and son go fishing on off days. There are bass and catfish in the lake, but the Higgins boys have yet to see one face to face.
How he landed at Westlake is a far more interesting than any fishing tale.
“During the end of summer, I was at a few college camps and thinking about moving,” Higgins said. “I was searching for a high school and was told that Westlake needed a quarterback. It was like a perfect idea and high school, and I made a decision.
“I like everything about the football team, my teammates, the coaches. They’re all super cool and humble. The big thing for us is teamwork. We’re one big family.”
Higgins compared the Thunder’s stadium to Kamehameha’s Paie’a stadium. Both have turf, a rubber running track and metal bleachers. They both draw about the same amount of fans, usually under 1,000, though Saratoga Springs has a population of just 29,000.
“One of the biggest upsides is my dad can watch my games. That’s super awesome,” he said. “We have a band in the stands. It’s just super cool.
“The lake is right down the road. We’ve gone a few time for bass and catfish, but no luck down there.”
They’ve been to former Waiakea assistant Will Tolentino’s house for a BBQ. It’s about an hour away, but it gave Higgins a chance to reconnect with all the Big Island players who are playing in Utah: brothers Hezekiah and Zedekiah Anahu-Ambrosio (Konawaena), Lyle Silva (Hilo), Ricky Mamone (Hilo), Jase Ambrosio (Hilo), Keenan Freeman (Hilo), and Landon Figueroa (Hilo).
“We went during the Labor Day weekend,” Higgins said. “It was good fun meeting with a bunch of Hawaii boys.
“On my days off, I’ll hang with my teammates or get extra training in. Two weeks ago, we went to the BYU game, when they played the Utah Utes. It was their rivalry game and really fun.”
His mom, Kathleen, is back home on the Big Island, and Higgins also misses his old Wildcat teammates. But they can hit him up on Instagram, at gazqbhiggins, to follow his exploits.
The other obvious thing he misses is the local grinds.
“I haven’t had poke in so long,” he said. “There’s a place called Mo Bettah. It’s like L&L. They serve teri chicken and mac salad. There’s another place, Side of Aloha.
“My dad is really good at cooking. When we first moved here, it was plate lunches and Dominoes pizza. But when we settled in and bought groceries, he’d cook a lot more. I still text my old teammates. I’m happy for them that they’ve got something going on.”