Life changed for Ragin’ Cajun senior defensive linemen, Bennie Higgins, on August 15, 2019, when Higgins received a phone call during a meeting that his house was on fire.
Higgins’ fiancé and two children survived the fire but lost all their belongings.
“It’s been a real bad experience,” Higgins said. “I’m just trying to stay focused, focus on the things I’ve got to focus on. It’s been hard, noticing that I don’t have a house. It’s been very hard. Just as long as my family is safe and nothing happened to them, I’m kind of grateful.
In the home during the time, Higgins said his godparents were also present during the fire but was unharmed.
“I was thinking of a lot of bad things at the time, because I do have a lot of things in my house — things that are worth something to me like pictures, my kids' clothes, my son’s first shoes, all his toys and stuff I wanted to keep,” he said. “At the same time, I can’t be mad because my family’s safe. That’s the main thing.”
A Greenwood, Mississippi native and the second leading returning tackler for the Ragin’ Cajuns, Higgins is grateful for the outpouring of help from the Lafayette community in this devastating time for him and his family. He also thanked Coach Napier and his coaching staff for making it their top priority to ensure his safety.
“It is a lot,” Higgins said. “I’m just trying to stay focused. The fire is the last thing on my mind. I know coach Wingerter and coach Napier and them got my back. They’re not going to let me just hang and let me be poor. This community has been doing a lot for me. A lot of nice people have been coming up to me and asking me do I need this, do I need that.”
“I’m just trying to stay positive and stay focused on football and let the process work on its own.” Higgins said.
Coach Napier explained that the community rallied around Higgins because of the person and teammate that he is every day.
“It’s because the type of person he is and the type of teammate that he is. The character that he’s showed, the consistency and the type of person he is,” Napier said.
The university has has assisted Higgins and his family with the NCAA Student Assistance Fund, along with setting up a GoFundMe account that is in Cajun Compliance.
“I think it’s a tribute to our community, the type of people that we have here. We oftentimes say we want to be a team that reflects our community. In this community, people will give you the shirt off their back and that’s certainly what’s happened.”
“If anybody knows Bennie, he’s got a great heart,” Napier said. “He’s just a terrific person. Guy got his education, got his degree. He’s had quite a journey. Tremendous family and a guy who really goes about his business the right way. He played last year with some injuries. He showed tremendous toughness.”
Higgins spoke with ESPN 1420 reporter Scott Prather on his childhood and the impact of how football has helped him understand the responsibility and igniting a transformation in him from a boy to a man. Crediting football for teaching him the proper way to handle adversity and difficult situations, such as this one.
“I feel like football and school, in general, is really important,” Higgins said. “I come from a bad city, a bad state, and I can say it got me from living out the house with my mom and getting me to come here and grew me more as a person. It’s a lot of responsibility and the coaches push it into your head that it is a lot of responsibility and that you have to work hard, it is a serious game.”
Wanting to carry the lessons he’s learned onto his 3-year-old son and 6-month-old daughter, Higgins is determined to display a positive mindset in front of his children. Even though his daughter may not understand the severity of the moment, Higgins is hopeful that his son will remember how his father handled difficult situations. He wants to show them that when things start to get tough that you must become tougher because that is the only way you will be able to conquer it.
“I don’t want for kids to see me down,” Higgins said. “I don’t want my kids to see me crying and whining. I haven’t seen them in about two weeks, but I’m just going to keep working and hopefully get back on my feet and get a place to stay so I can get them back to me.
While Higgins is recovering financially his two children are residing in his hometown of Greenwood, Mississippi with the Higgins family.
“I just don’t want to show my son, oh something big happened so it’s time to cry. I want to teach him how to be a man.”
Despite Higgin’s unexpected misfortune. His focus remains on the upcoming season for Higgins and his fellow Louisiana teammates. The 6-foot 280 pound senior is mentally prepared to channel his attention onto the football field in the wake of this tragedy. The Louisiana defensive linemen started all 14 games in the 2018 season and recorded 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, making him second on the team in both categories.
Looking to pick up where he left off last season, Higgins has one goal in mind for the Ragin’ Cajun team and is centered on accomplishing that with vengeance from last year's conference loss against Appalachian State.
“The main thing is to win the Sunbelt championship,” Higgins said. “I want to go undefeated, I don’t really want to lose any games. To get this team back to a conference championship and win it.”