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Higgins named head coach

Thad Higgins is no stranger to the running courses of the region.
The county native is back home and leading the charge for the Unicoi County High School cross country program after being named the new head coach this summer. Higgins replaces former head coach Gary Howard, who retired following the conclusion of the 2014 season.
“Coach Higgins has big shoes to fill taking over cross country for coach Howard after 25-plus years,” UCHS Athletic Director Michael Smith said. “Coach Higgins is a young coach that will be a great asset for the cross country team at UCHS. The experience he brings to the table as a college athlete will be valuable to the program.”
Higgins said the experience last season as an assistant coach for UCHS track and field head coach Megan Davis was good preparation for the cross country season.
“Absolutely,” Higgins responded when asked if last season helped for the upcoming year. “I’ve run almost my entire life. I knew the science behind running and have worked with people individually, but that experience as an assistant for track and field was a whole new thing to me.
“It was very important to work with coach Davis and to have her as a resource,” Higgins continued. “Watching the time and effort she put in with athletes during the season was a big help.”
During his time at UCHS, Higgins ran one year of cross country and was a four-year member of the track and field program. Higgins graduated in 2010 with two trips to the TSSAA state competition before receiving a scholarship to join the Milligan College track and field program as a pole vaulter and runner in certain distance meets.
Being part of the Milligan program for four years was a big help for the future, Higgins added. He was coached by Chris Layne. Layne has been at Milligan for the past 17 season as the head coach of the cross country and track and field teams for the Buffalos and has netted nearly 300 national championship qualifiers and over 50 All-American athletes.
A decorated pole vaulting career at the high school allowed Higgins to work with Laura Rogers during the 2014 track and field year. Higgins helped Rogers earn a bid to last year’s state meet in Murfreesboro.
While the track and field bug bit last year, the opportunity to carry on a tradition left by Howard also caught the attention of the Blue Devil graduate.
“I was very interested in the cross country position,” Higgins said. “Coach Howard saw great success last year. Megan Todd was able to make it to the state meet and there was a very talented underclassmen group. Coach Howard was a great coach and had high expectations for the program every year. If you ran for the school, he expected you to perform to the best of your ability, be there for practices and show respect when you represent the school.
“We want to be able to carry on that tradition and operate with a high amount of respect and integrity when we represent Unicoi County High School.”
If the summer is any indication, the Blue Devils and Lady Blue Devils are in good hands for the 2015 season.
“We’ve had several runners come out so far,” Higgins said. “I’ve been impressed with the students going out of their way to compete and run in races on their own time. We currently have 12 runners. We had around four or five competing in a race held at Daniel Boone during the weekend and Austin Wilson recently placed high in an 8K race, so he’s already coming in with some success.
“It has been great so far to see the student athletes work as hard as they did this summer and I’m proud of the work they’re putting in so far.”
Final details for this year’s schedule are currently being worked out, Higgins added. A look at the upcoming schedule for the Blue Nation runners will appear in a future edition of The Erwin Record.