NFL Draft Q&A With WR Johnnie Lee Higgins

UTEP wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins is "The Real Deal" in so many ways. With his speed, determination and down-to-earth outlook, he should be one of the success stories in this year's rookie class. Learn more about him and what he wants to accomplish in this exclusive interview with's Ed Thompson.

Ed Thompson:  When did you get the nickname "The Real Deal" and who gave it to you?

Johnnie Lee Higgins:  I had a coach in high school named Coach Price, and we had a game and we did this left flanker delay screen and I basically ran from side-to-side up the field, escaping everybody and scored a 78-yard touchdown in my first varsity game. He was just like "yeah, he's the real deal" (laughs).

ET:  What do you love most about football?

JLH:  I love to play it, I've always been a big sports dude, I just love competing, competing, competing.  I have a lot of friends and family members, say "I gotta call off work tomorrow" and hate going to work.  I don't want to be one of those people.  I love competing against everybody at different levels and different colleges because I come from a small town college and it worked out for me.

ET:  Where does your competitive nature come from?

JLH:  Both of my parents pushed me.  It was times like when I played little league and if I carried the ball three times for 298 yards and three touchdowns, my pop would be like "that's not good enough, why don't you have three carries for 300 yards and three touchdowns?"  He always just pushed me and pushed me, so that's basically all I know.  My mom would say "you don't have to push him like that" because I'm the baby of the family, so she was always looking out for the baby.  But he pushed me and she'll push me in her own way.  I'm that kind of person that you can't tell me I can't do that.  If you tell me I can't do it, there's going to be extra energy coming from somewhere trying to prove you wrong.

ET:  You progressed in practically every statistics category over the course of your college career. How were you able to do that?

JLH:  I set personal goals and then my coaches helped make sure I achieved those goals.  Once I achieved them or got close to achieving them I just wanted more and the more I wanted the more I got.

ET:  What do you think your goals will be for your rookie season in the NFL?

JLH:  I haven't really just sat down and thought about it, but I'd say rookie season to make it to the Pro Bowl, it's not impossible.  That would be a huge accomplishment if I have the chance to.

(Photo:Brian Kanof/UTEP)
ET:  Are teams talking to you about contributing as a returns specialist at the pro level your rookie year?

JLH:  I talked to a lot of teams at the Combine and they asked me about it. And I told them if you put me on the field, no matter where it's at, I'm going to give it my all. I can return punts and kickoffs and I love to do that.

ET:  Talk about the experience of your Pro Day…

JLH:  I still don't like the time I ran, but it was better than what I ran at the Combine.  I felt a lot more comfortable at home because at the Combine you have this look and this look and it can get someone out of the comfort zone.  When I return to UTEP I feel like I'm on home turf and I feel good, so I was just like okay, it's all or nothing.  Everytime I perform I try to look at it as if my back is against the wall.

ET:  So you weren't satisfied with a 4.3 to 4.34 time?

JLH:  I wanted them to be a 4.2 at least a 4.29.

ET:  When you're returning a kickoff, what's going through your head?

JLH:  When I get it, it's just run and look for the open hole. It's just trying bust through, but know anything can happen so always be prepared. You see a lot of people on kickoff and punt return just get murdered because they see something, a hole can open up and close just as fast as it opened. So it's just basically instinct and you just go with it, that's all you can do is trust your instincts and go.

ET:  Punt return seems like one of the more dangerous jobs out there, do you really enjoy it?

JLH:  Honestly when I first started, I was on kickoff return. My coach last year, our receivers coach, saw me back there on kickoff and he came and messed with me.  He said, "Real Deal get on punt return. You can't be scared, go get a skirt if you're scared."  So I was like, "okay, if I wear a skirt, I'll be safe.  I don't want to be the crash dummy (laughs).  But he was just like "I'm not going to let you wear a skirt, come over here and try and if you don't like it I'll take you off."  So I went back there and I thought okay, and it's still crazy because I did it in high school.  But those kicks were short and the ball just came down real quick.  So I got in the game--we were playing our rival Mexico State--so I knew there was extra energy with some people just coming down crazy and insane.  And he said "if you don't like the way it looks, wave your hand and back off."  So he kicked it and I caught it. And I think I got forty-some yards on my first return ever in college, so I was like "I'm liking this" (laughs) and ever since then I've been going in.

ET:  You're an interesting combination of someone who can sprint and be a deep threat, but you're also a guy who can catch the ball short and then use your moves to gain extra yards.  But your third thing is that you don't seem to mind running into traffic to catch the ball and take that lick if you have to…is that a fair assessment of you as a receiver?

JLH:  Yes, they always tell me you can't be scared to go across the middle.  And even if you are scared, you have to catch the ball.  One of the worst things is to get hit and not catch the ball--it makes you feel ten times worse.  I'm not scared, I'm going to get hit regardless. If you throw it, I have to catch it that's my job.

ET:  What do you think people would be surprised to know about you as a person?

JLH:  I always tell everyone who says, "oh, superstar this and superstar that" that I'm just a country boy trying to make it.  The John you know today is the John you'll know tomorrow.

Learn more about Johnnie Lee Higgins at his player profile page.

A member of the Professional Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's NFL and college football player interviews and features have been published across the network and syndicated through's NFL team pages.

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