After the Michigan football team’s last game, a 21-7 win over Michigan State, there was a lot to talk about.
So when Karan Higdon sat in the visitors’ press conference room at Spartan Stadium, he was asked about pregame antics and motivation and doubters. The senior running back had an answer ready.
“Every week, it seems that people, with the playoff rankings or whatever it may be, find a reason to critique us about why we don’t deserve to be a top-ranked team,” Higdon said. “Last week it was we don’t show up in big games. This week, it’s Michigan State’s got the No. 1-ranked defense. Blah, blah, blah. We showed up and we did our job. That’s all that matters, and that’s what it is.”
Higdon was positioned in that press conference between sophomore wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and junior quarterback Shea Patterson. He answered a majority of the questions during the presser, and he gave calm, confident responses.
When the three players stood up afterward, Peoples-Jones and Patterson smiled at Higdon, giving him high-fives and handshakes before they exited stage right. The game, and Higdon’s words, seemed to have pumped them all up.
Higdon was named captain before the season, and he exudes the confidence of one, both in front of the media and elsewhere.
When the Wolverines beat the Spartans, and Wisconsin before that, they sealed the games on the ground, feeding Higdon over and over and bludgeoning the opposing defense into submission. He is the workhorse of the offense.
On Monday, facing the media for the first time since East Lansing, Higdon said he feels he has always run with an aggressive, downhill style. What he has been trying to develop this season, is his leadership skills.
“Being more vocal,” Higdon said. “Holding guys to a higher standard, making sure we’re all on the same page and that I’m not just playing and leading through my play, but being vocal and making sure that guys are on top of their stuff, keeping that focus, keeping that higher energy.”
The ability to be a vocal leader and a strong performer go hand-in-hand, though.
If Higdon wasn’t leading the team with 831 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, if he hadn’t taken nearly the entire workload after junior running back Chris Evans went down with an injury, or if he hadn’t put in work off the field to become Michigan’s bell cow, his voice wouldn’t have a place on the team in the first place.
But he has done all those things, and his voice does hold water with the Wolverines.
“(Higdon) has been getting a bulk of the carries these last eight weeks, and you can tell he knows he’s a leader,” said junior safety Josh Metellus. “He knows guys look up to him, and he’s taken that with a high head and like, ‘Alright, if people want me to be the leader, I can be the leader.’ You know, he’s speaking up. Whatever he doesn’t like, he says it. Or, you know, if he wants to talk to the team, give us some encouragement, he does. Everybody really listens to him.”
Added redshirt junior left tackle Jon Runyan: “Karan’s a guy that’s not afraid to call anybody out. When guys are slacking, missing a block or not catching the ball, having him, knowing that he has your back even when he says that stuff, it’s very nice. Karan’s a great dude. Everybody loves him, rallies around him, and it’s great having him out there with us.”
To Runyan, the way Higdon has earned respect is the same thing he expects from those around him. He calls people out, because he wants them to work as hard as he does.
From Higdon’s perspective, that likely has more to do with the constant push to get Michigan to its highest level of performance.
For his teammates, though, Higdon’s respect for them means something, too.
“For Karan, it’s coming in, doing your job, working hard every day,” Runyan said. “Don’t get too boastful about yourself, and you’ll eventually earn his respect. I think I’ve definitely done that. Everyone on the offense has done their part to earn that, and that’s something really special when a type of player like Karan’s caliber, you earn his respect.”
The feeling is almost definitely mutual.