Former United States National Team captain Kevin Higgins was born on November 8, 1962 in Buffalo, New York. He had established himself as a superior athlete and one of the fastest guys on his teams by the time he was in high school. He started making a name for himself as a junior tailback for California football powerhouse Mater Dei High School. In his senior year, Higgins carried the football 187 times for 1,100 yards and with no fumbles, an early sign of his sure handedness with a rugby ball. He also returned punts and kickoffs. In his senior year he was All Angeles League, All Orange County, and was selected as Mater Dei's Offensive Player of the Year.
He was also outstanding on the track, as he went undefeated in the 300 low hurdles in both his junior and senior years, won the Angeles League's 400 meters and was anchor on the league champion 400 meter and mile relay teams, all on the same day in his senior season. He was voted Mater Dei’s and the Angeles League’s Most Valuable Track Athlete.
Higgins was recruited by a number of universities but he decided on Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo. He was the leading rusher and scorer on the undefeated Cal Poly freshman football team. When the Cal Poly head coach and his staff left that first year for Arizona, Kevin and several of his football teammates left football and joined the SLO Rugby Team.
But one sport’s loss was another sport’s gain as Higgins touched a rugby ball for the first time in his sophomore year and fell in love with the sport immediately. His rise in rugby was meteoric. He played four seasons at Cal Poly and was chosen as a Collegiate All-American his last three years. His prowess on the rugby field soon caught the eyes of U.S. National Team selectors and Higgins played in his first of 28 test matches while a junior in college, in a victory over Japan in Tokyo on April 21, 1985.
Higgins went on to become a star for the USA in both XVs and 7s. He played for the USA at both center and wing and in both the 1987 and 1991 Rugby World Cups. Higgins was the first player in the USA to reach 25 caps, earning 7 at wing and 21 at center, while scoring four tries for the Eagles. He also played for the USA 7s team 16 times. Higgins captained the USA during the 1989 tour to Argentina and Uruguay and against Argentina at home, also in 1989. He appeared for the USA in the Hong Kong 7s in 1988, 1990, and 1991.
“Higgy”, as he was known, was an inventive and exciting player. His red hair making him easily identifiable on the field, Higgins redefined the position of center with his agile moves, speed, and ability to crash up the middle. He set the standard for both aspiring Eagles as well as competitive weekend players.
Off the field, Higgy was an inspiring leader and a true friend. He was always ready to lighten a moment with his quick wit and on most tours, he was charged with keeping the team lose. He did just that on one bus trip to a training session in Grenfell, Australia. Higgy sold Bingo cards to all the players and coaches on the bus and cleverly figured out how everyone on the bus would hit Bingo on the exact same number. The most difficult part of the whole ordeal was Higgy actually being able to get the “O 72” out of his mouth before he collapsed in laughter in the aisle.
In 1991, Higgins was the first Eagle of the modern era to be invited on the Barbarians Easter Tour. He was also selected for the Teljoy World XV, teaming with the likes of Alan and Gary Whetton, Grant Fox, Bernie Fraser, Stan Pilecki, Buck Shelford and fellow American, Mike Purcell.
Higgins played the majority of his club rugby for the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club (OMBAC) in San Diego, California. He helped lead OMBAC to two national championships in 1988 and 1989. He finished his club rugby with the Old Blues of Northern California.
While his records may no longer stand, Higgy's influence on USA rugby is still felt throughout the country. He defined larger than life for players, fans, coaches and friends with his aggressive play, exemplary leadership & off-field lust for life. He remains the player kids today hear about and aspire to emulate. Higgins left an indelible mark on USA Rugby before retiring for medical reasons immediately following the 1991 Rugby World Cup.
After Higgy retired from international play, he was an assistant coach with the National Champion University of California collegiate rugby team from 1993-96. Working with USA National Team Coach and Cal Head Coach Jack Clark, Higgins was primarily responsible for the backs. He molded several future USA Eagles including center Ray Green and scrum half Andre Bachelet.
Green remembers Higgy’s passion for the game and life. “He would have given anything to lace up his boots again to have a run with us. You could always see the fire in his eyes and his enthusiasm was contagious. His pre-game pep talks were legendary - full of inspiration, sound advice and spittle shooting from his lips. He convinced us that we could beat anyone around the corner with a straight 'hands' call and made 'jinking and linking' part of our everyday vocabulary. Needless to say his after match hijinks lived up to the expectations all of us had for a world traveled, rugby legend. We knew he was the real deal and would have followed him anywhere.”
As a tribute to one of the greats of U.S. Rugby, the United States Rugby Football Foundation created the Kevin Higgins Scholarship Program in 2008. As of 2012, 41 deserving high school graduates received $1,000 to further their rugby and education at the collegiate level.
Kevin Higgins passed away on October 30, 1996.