Higgins takes over Toho football program

  • Assistant Football Coach Chris Biggz, left, and Assistant Coach Chris Johnson, right, introduce new head football coach Jeff Higgins on Wednesday afternoon. News-Gazette Photo/ J. Daniel Pearson
    Assistant Football Coach Chris Biggz, left, and Assistant Coach Chris Johnson, right, introduce new head football coach Jeff Higgins on Wednesday afternoon. News-Gazette Photo/ J. Daniel Pearson

Tohopekaliga High has a new football boss.

Athletics Director Lonnie Flores named Jeff Higgins as the third head coach in the school’s four-year history.  Higgins replaces Marc Deas, who resigned after a successful two-year run to become head coach of Feltrim, a new private academy and prep school near Haines City.

Under Deas, the Tigers went 12-8 in two seasons, won a bowl game in 2019, and won the first playoff game in school’s history with a 28-0 win over Winter Springs.  Anthony Davis was the first coach when the school opened in 2018, putting a competitive team on the field in the school’s first season, before resigning just weeks before the start of the 2019 campaign to become the director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Marathon in South Florida.

In making the announcement, Flores said he felt confident that Higgins was the right candidate.

“We had a lot of top applicants who wanted this job, but from the beginning Coach Higgins stood out. His vision for our program certainly aligned with our vision and he is exactly the type of individual we were looking for,” he said.

Although the Tigers will be getting their third coach in just four seasons, neither Flores nor Higgins sees it as a negative.

“At first glance it may look like an unstable situation, but the truth is we have frankly just been a little unlucky with our head coaches,” Flores said. “Both Coach Davis and Coach Deas were the right coaches at the right time for our school. Unfortunately for us circumstances and opportunities opened up for both men. Coach Davis had a chance to go home to a place he truly loved and then Coach Deas was presented with a ‘dream job’ opportunity that he could not turn away from.”

Higgins added that the foundation that was already in place at Tohopekaliga was one of things that made the opportunity attractive.

“I certainly do not view this situation as something that needs to be torn down and rebuilt,” Higgins said. “We have some great things going for us here and have some great kids.  Coach Davis and Coach Deas accomplished a lot here in the few seasons of the school’s existence.  We have a great foundation here that hopefully will continue enhance and add on to.”

Higgins believes building relationships will define success in his first year.

“We will reach out to the youth programs, businesses and community and create a family atmosphere.  While continuing to build on a winning program is important, wins can be measured in other ways too.  We want our kids to win in the classroom.  We want to partner with the local businesses make them feel a part of the program and win in the community.  We will reach out to the youth football programs and win with them,” Higgins said.

In Higgins, the Tigers are getting a coach with professional, college and high school experience.  He graduated from Ithaca College, where he started three years as a wide receiver and kick returner.  He would play eight seasons of professional football in various arena leagues.

 From 2004-2012 he served as head football coach at Central High School in Corinth, NY, where he lifted a downtrodden program to respectability – recording a 35-46 record.  Other coaching stops included a year as quarterbacks coach in Ithaca in 1997, and several years in the af2 league with the Albany franchise in 2006 and 2009. He served as head coach at Freedom High School in Orlando in 2013, before turning to administration work and serving as volunteer coach for the team for several years.

Most recently, Higgins served as offensive coordinator of the Orlando Predators of the National Arena Football League in 2019.  He was a guest coach of the Calgary Stampeders for three seasons during that CFL team’s training camp; and served as a coach and instructor for the High School All-American Bowl and the Tropical Bowl, a college all-star game held in Florida last month.