Cincinnati Bengal high school coach Tee Higgins got him to play football

Tee Higgins was playing basketball when he was told that his greatest chance of success in the future would be on the football field.

It wasn’t that Higgins, who was already almost 6-foot-3 and an eighth grader at the time, wasn’t a good basketball player. It was.

But retired Oak Ridge High football coach Joe Gaddis saw something about Higgins that made him believe Higgins would be better in cleats than high tops.

“I said, ‘Tee, you’re a hell of a basketball player, but with your size, you have the chance to be a big football star,'” Gaddis said. “‘In football you’re going to be a receiver and you’re going to be a giant whereas in basketball there’s a bunch of guys your size.'”

Gaddis also told Higgins that if he focused on football, he would play on Saturdays and Sundays one day.

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Gaddis was right. Higgins took his advice and played for Gaddis at Oak Ridge where he was a two-time Mr. Tennessee Class 5A Football. He went on to become one of the nation’s top college receivers at Clemson and made the 2018 national championship team, and is now one of the NFL’s top young receivers.

Higgins, who continued to play basketball in high school but focused on football, will return to Tennessee on Saturday with the Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC Divisional Round game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan. Stadium (3:30 p.m. CT, CBS).

Oak Ridge head coach Joe Gaddis is seen on the sidelines during a high school football game between Oak Ridge and Campbell County on Friday, October 29, 2021.

As Gaddis predicted, Higgins’ length (he’s now 6-4) along with his speed and exceptional pass-catching abilities helped him become part of a trio of Bengals receivers, who along with quarterback Joe Burrow, are capable of giving opposing defenses. .

Higgins, who missed two games with an injury early in the season, has 74 catches for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns. Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase has 81 catches, 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns and Tyler Boyd has 67 catches, 828 yards and five touchdowns.

Higgins facilitated Gaddis’s work through his three years at Oak Ridge to become a five-star prospect, who first committed to Tennessee before changing his mind and signing with Clemson.

“He was nowhere to be found, even as a freshman in high school,” Gaddis said. “You could cover it, but we would just say to the quarterback, ‘Throw the ball to him. Whether it’s covered or not doesn’t matter. He will catch it. “”

It was one particular catch in training that surprised even Gaddis, who coached for 38 years after making his debut at Tullahoma.

“I had never seen anyone do that. We’re going down a slanting course and Tee is running from right to left,” Gaddis said. “The ball is thrown behind his head and he reaches back with his right hand and grabs it. He can’t see it. He just grabs it and moves on. It’s like it was planned. He didn’t break his stride. He caught it like they worked on it.”

Gaddis took advantage of Higgins’ immense talent to put him on defense against Oak Ridge’s toughest opponents.

“We put him on the corner of the big games and he intercepted a pass or two at the start of the year and returned it for a touchdown and he literally closed that half of the field because no one would throw it there- low,” Gaddis said.

“We tried not to play him all the time on defense, but he wanted to play defense. He always wanted to play their best receivers; it didn’t matter who it was.”

Higgins’ Oak Ridge No. 5 jersey was retired in 2019.

Contact Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter.

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