CHEYENNE – Coach Chad Goff wasn’t sure what to expect from Cheyenne East’s offensive line when two-a-days started in mid-August.
Senior Zac Higgins was the lone returning starter up front. Goff – who is in his 14th season as the Thunderbirds coach – was confident the group of players that had been given plenty of time to develop at the subvarsity level would be solid by season’s end, but it was still a question mark when the season opened.
The O-line has helped East (7-3) rack up a Class 4A-best 437 yards of total offense per game entering tonight’s semifinal matchup at Thunder Basin (10-0). The game kicks off at 6 p.m. in Gillette.
Higgins has been a big part of the group jelling and producing.
“We knew coming in we could count on him to do some good things,” Goff said of his left guard. “He is kind of an old-school kid and a tough kid. He loves the grind and isn’t afraid of anybody. He is fearless.
“That confidence and fearlessness really helps him. He is not the biggest or heaviest guy, but he really gets after people.”
The 5-foot-10, 220-pound Higgins likes being described as fearless. He describes himself as hardheaded.
Higgins had his own concerns about East’s offensive line, but they were quickly put to rest.
“Before we even played a game, I could see that the new guys were ready to go, and they weren’t going to shy away from competition,” Higgins said. “I was pretty confident in them.”
Any remaining concerns Higgins may have had were laid to rest during East’s 33-0 win at Laramie on Oct. 4. A stiff wind kept the T-Birds from throwing the ball as much as they would have liked, and they threw for a season-low 167 yards.
East was forced to run, and piled up a season-high 301 yards on the ground.
“That showed everyone how good we could be and how good of a running game we had,” Higgins said. “There were a couple of drives where we had to go 90 yards or more to score, and we ran it most of the way.
“We have to work hard in pass blocking, but we really have to do our jobs to be successful running the ball. It feels good when a guy gets through everyone after we do our job and make a hole for them.”
The veterans who surrounded Higgins last season helped him adjust to playing at the varsity level. He tried to bring a similar style of leadership this fall.
“I wanted to step up and be to these guys what the guys last year were for me,” he said. “These guys came in with a really solid foundation, so I tried to help them with whatever they needed, whether it was footwork or how to block certain things.
“I always tried to be positive and make sure they were doing what they were supposed to do so we could get our job done.”
Higgins also has been a standout as a defensive tackle. He is averaging 8.5 defensive points per game, and has posted 51 tackles. That includes 14 solo stops, five tackles for loss and three sacks. He also has broken up two passes.
“He has played really well the past few weeks on both sides of the ball,” Goff said. “He has been around the ball and made some huge plays.”