On Feb. 4, 2015 — National Signing Day — Karan Higdon felt sick to his stomach.
The running back from Sarasota, Fla., wasn’t even sure he wanted to go to his signing ceremony at Riverview High School that day, and he had still not made up his mind when he sat down at a table with two offer letters. One was from Iowa, where he had already verbally committed the previous October, and the other was from Michigan, a contender that had just offered him the week before.
Neither Higdon nor his family knew what would happen when he sat down at the table, but he said he ultimately went with his instincts and chose to sign with the Wolverines. And those instincts, surprisingly, had nothing to do with football.
“It was really me just looking at life after football,” Higdon said Monday. “Football is not a promising game — you never know when your last snap or play is gonna be, so you’ve gotta think about the things that’s gonna build you as a person versus building you as a football player.”
Because of his lifelong desire to help people, Higdon has wanted to be in the medical field since he was 7. He saw an opportunity to get a quality medical education at Michigan, where he is currently studying to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).
On the football side of things, though, the three-star recruit coming to Ann Arbor surprised many fans. When Higdon committed, the Wolverines already had three experienced backs on the roster and appeared to be in the mix for four-star Mike Weber, who ultimately signed with Ohio State.
Almost two years later, though, Higdon has found his place on the field as well as in the classroom. As a surprise member of a four-man running back rotation, the sophomore has racked up 403 yards on 53 carries for an eye-popping 7.6 yards per touch. His six rushing touchdowns are the most of any running back on the roster and more than anyone else except the team’s goal-line specialist, redshirt junior fullback Khalid Hill.
Higdon became Michigan’s go-to back in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s win over Michigan State, as the Wolverines tried to pick up first downs and run out the clock. He came up short on his last few attempts — in part due to what Higdon deemed a questionable spot on third down — but the coaching staff’s willingness to use him proved their trust in him.
“Karan does a good job, maybe the best job of hitting the hole,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “He hits it downhill very fast. We felt like we needed that in that part of the ballgame.”
The running-back-by-committee approach wasn’t necessarily what the Wolverines had planned to start the season, but the emergence of Higdon and freshman Chris Evans has almost forced running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley’s hand. Higdon played sparingly as a true freshman, managing just 19 yards on 11 carries, but he burst onto the scene in fall camp this season.
Part of Higdon’s success has come from his physical talents — he aims to be a balanced back like Adrian Peterson, who can be “quick and explosive” but also “lower (his) shoulder” on power runs — but the rest has come from increasing his patience.
“I can be very quick at times, and sometimes I can outrun my linemen,” Higdon said. “Knowing that I have that ability, me as a runner, I have to slow down and let things open up versus trying to make those things open up, and I think I’ve definitely gotten better at that.”
That newfound comfort has Higdon feeling like he’s in a good place, both athletically and academically. And in just two weeks, he will travel with Michigan to Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes, personifying the battle that went on in his head 21 months ago.
Though he remembers his visits to Iowa fondly and thinks the trip will be “like a homecoming,” Higdon’s recent success has him feeling like that dilemma is far behind him.
“I’m a firm believer that I live with no regrets,” he said. “If I make a decision, I’m gonna make it and live with it. … I’m extremely happy to be here and to be a part of the Go Blue Nation.”