Momma’s Boy

CHRIS SEWARD/AP PHOTO

On that afternoon when I found out my mom had been shot in the head, I told my sister something that still, to this day, doesn’t seem real to me.

I was six at the time.

And the four words that came out of my mouth, I mean … I honestly can’t believe that I said them as a six-year-old. My sister, though, she swears that I did. And I believe her. Even though I have no memory of it.

What I do remember from that day comes only in bits and pieces.

This was in the fall of 2005. I’d just started going to school. They pulled me out of kindergarten right after lunch that afternoon.

I remember walking from the cafeteria back to the classroom with all my friends and my teacher, and then her getting a call that someone had come to take me home. When I heard that, it was pure celebration.

Yeah!! HAHAAHAHA! I’m outta here. Later for you guys!!!

Next thing I remember is being in the school office. And seeing my sister, KeKe, standing there crying. Everything changed for me in an instant. She was 17 then. Older. Strong. And there she was … just straight up bawling at my school.

So of course I run up to her like, “What’s wrong? Why are you crying? What’s wrong?”

If I close my eyes right now, I can still see that image clear as day.

And she won’t tell me.

She was just standing there crying and shaking her head. If I close my eyes right now, I can still see that image clear as day.

I had no idea at all what to think. It was just completely confusing to me.

I remember my sister walked me out to the car, and after she put me in, she finally told me why she was crying so hard. She turned to me, and looked me in the eyes, and just came out with it.

“It’s Momma.”

Then she stopped for a second.

“What happened to Momma?” I yelled. “What happened to Momma?!”

“Momma got shot,” KeKe said, and she told me that the man our mom was dating had pulled the trigger. “Momma’s hurt real bad.”

And right then, that’s when I said it.

That’s when those four words somehow came out of the mouth of six-year-old Tamaurice Higgins. In between sobs, I screamed out….

“I’m gonna kill him!!!!!!”

Courtesy of Tee Higgins

By the time we got home, I could barely talk because I was crying so hard.

When we pulled up to the house, it seemed like there were 100 police officers out front, but I remember the yellow tape more than anything.

You know the tape I’m talking about — that bright yellow crime-scene tape. That stuff was like a fence around our yard.

I opened the car door and ran over to the police officers as fast as I could.

“Where’s my momma?!?!?”

I was screaming my words at that point, and it was tough to catch my breath.

“I wanna see my momma! Where is she? Where’s my momma?”

She was already gone, they told me. A helicopter had somehow flown over to our little street in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and picked up my mom to take her to the hospital.

And for a little kid … that might have been the worst news of all.

Hearing that I wouldn’t be able to see my mom, or hug her, or tell her how much I loved her … that really just set me off into a whole different place.

I literally cried the next four days straight.

I couldn’t even go see my mom at the hospital.

I had to stay at my aunt’s house and basically just pray that she’d survive. But during those next several days I was able to learn a bit more about what had happened. She’d been shot twice at close range by a man she’d been seeing, and who I’d find out later — when I was old enough to know what drugs were — was her crack dealer.

I had no idea what she was into at the time. I was so little, you know what I mean?

She was just … Momma.

I didn’t know she was using. Had no idea she was addicted to crack. To me, things were just … the way they were. When you’re six, you don’t really question all that much. And I was such a mama’s boy. All I wanted was to be around my mom 24/7, to have her attention.

Plus, she never used in front of me. She kept her habit pretty well-hidden from me when I was little, so I don’t even remember her ever being messed up or anything like that.

What I do still have stuck in my mind, though, even all these years later is….

Those nights.

I had no idea what she was into at the time. I was so little, you know what I mean?

Some of my very first memories in life — from back when I was really, really little — involve something that would happen every so often at our house at like two or three in the morning. My sister was living with our grandma then, so it was just me and my mom in our house. And some nights … man, I hate to even think about it.

I just remember waking up in my bed and calling out for her.

“Momma….”

“Momma?”

Then hearing nothing.

“Momma???”

At that point, I’d yell it as loud as I could.

“MOMMMAAAAAAAAAA?????”

And no matter how many times I yelled, or how loud, there’d be no answer.

She was gone.

I was … alone.

And that feeling, on those nights, was one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced. Just knowing that I was all by myself and no one was there for me.

I have these vivid memories from back then of getting up and being terrified and looking all around the house for my mom and then….

I’d run out our front door and off into the dark.

For real.

It seems so crazy now. But I’d be five or six and just … take off out the door.

It’d be pitch black out, middle of the night, and I’d run outside and book it to my grandma’s place a few houses down the street — crying the whole way there.

I’d be in my pajamas basically, a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. Bare feet. I’d absolutely pound on my grandma’s door when I got there.

And my grandma, God bless her, she always answered.

Then she’d just give me a big hug and hold me tight.

On some of those nights, my mom would take off without saying anything, and when I’d wake up in the night there’d be one of her friends there, just sitting on the couch. I’d run out into the living room and they’d just be there … staring at me.

I’d bust out crying immediately.

It’d be like, “Who are you?!??! Get out of my house! Leave me alone!!!”

Then I’d take off running for Grandma’s.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I was pretty much always running as a kid. And most of the time it was as fast as my legs would go.

My mom and dad were in and out of prison for a lot of my childhood. So during those times I’d stay with my two aunts, or with my grandma and my sister. I really just tried to roll with whatever the situation was. But Oak Ridge, the town where we lived, didn’t make things any easier.

It’s better there now, but back then? There were a lot of people out on the streets selling drugs, smoking crack, shooting guns. It was all out in the open. People would just be right there on the corner using, or waving a handgun and yelling some nonsense.

That was just my everyday growing up.

I distinctly remember this one time when I was like seven or eight and me and two of my friends were walking over to a park near my house to toss around the football, when we came up on these two guys arguing in the street. Next thing you know, they started shooting at each other.

That was the first time I ever saw someone get shot. Like … I saw it happen — saw a guy go down, saw the blood.

And, man, I’ve never run so fast in my life. My heart was racing. I remember jumping this fence like I was Superman or something.

So yeah, as a kid, in one way or another I was always runnin’ to somewhere … or from something.

It was pretty much all I knew.

My mom didn’t stop using after she got out of the hospital.

Getting shot in the head? Almost dying? Having to go through surgery on her skull and weeks and weeks of recovery?

None of that cleared out her addiction. When she got home, it was right back to sneaking out and getting high.

At one point she got arrested again and got locked up for a while, and then when she got out of jail they sent her to a halfway house over in Knoxville to try to get clean.

I was staying with my aunt at that point, and I’d beg anyone who’d listen to let me go see her. It would be all I’d talk about every day, just over and over and over again, like kids do. So each chance she’d get, my grandma would load me into her car to make that 30-minute drive over to the halfway house.

There was nothing to do there. The food was … rough. And her room was basically just a twin bed and a chair. I don’t even think there was a window. But to me….

That was better than going to Disneyland.

I could talk with my mom. And joke around and laugh. And….

I could hug her.

When I knew my mom was around, I was always just so happy.

After my mom got out of that halfway house things started to change for our family.

I noticed that she started coming to more of my football and basketball games. And when I’d wake up at night and call her name … she’d answer.

She’d be there.

Just that alone was a huge thing for me, and for my outlook on life. When I knew my mom was around, I was always just so happy.

Beyond those differences, when you saw my mom, you could just tell she was changing. When you looked at her you could see that she looked noticeably better, healthier. And, honestly, actually just seeing her at all was a pretty big deal. Like we all noticed that she’d be in the same place for longer. She wasn’t running out all the time like she used to, off to who knows where. She’d sit around for hours and hours just talking with us, or watching TV and hanging out.

And before we knew it a week of that turned into a month. And then a month turned into a year. Then we looked up and it was three years on. And now, more than 12 years later….

Here we are.

My mom has been clean and present and doing well for so long now that all that stuff from when I was a little kid almost seems like a whole different lifetime. She works as an in-home caregiver and health aid now. She’s healthy and happy and doing great!

When people ask her why she changed her life around, what made her finally beat back the addiction that had her in its grips for so long, she immediately mentions me and my sister.

That’s the first thing out of her mouth … that she wanted to be a better mom and to show us the love we deserved and to be there for us in all the ways that she hadn’t before.

And when I hear that….

I mean I’m getting emotional right now even just thinking about it.

Courtesy of Tee Higgins

And something I definitely want to get across here at this point is that once my mom got better and was able to turn things around, she’s been the most amazing mom imaginable.

You better believe that she kept me on the straight and narrow all throughout middle school and high school. She made sure I understood the importance of getting a good education and of always trying to do the right thing. I never went anywhere near drugs. Ever. Never really got into any trouble at all. I was that quiet kid who was just always about his business. All I ever wanted to do was whatever I thought would make my mom the most proud.

From as early on as I can remember, I’d always use sports as an escape. And once my mom saw firsthand that I was getting pretty good at football, she realized there was a legit opportunity for me to make a better life for myself.

In Oak Ridge, there were a lot of people who had great potential to become superstar athletes, but for the most part they always seemed to choose the streets instead. So when I first started getting scholarship offers to play college football, my mom pounced. She saw it as my way out.

One thing about my mom, she never tries to hide from her past or pretend it didn’t happen. She’s honest about it. And she uses her experiences as a way to bring about something positive in the present. So that’s how she approached my opportunity.

“Son,” I remember her saying to me when we talked about college, “I already chose the streets for you. I did that already, and now you don’t have to go through it. You can choose to be different. You can be something special.”

And I really took what she said to heart. I made it my mission to show her that I was going to do just that.

When I got to Clemson and started making some plays, my mom was so proud. And just knowing that, well … it’s probably my favorite thing about playing college football.

I mean, seeing her in the stands with my jersey on, and a huge smile on her face? It doesn’t get any better than that for me. And I should definitely say, she’s not just proud, she’s loud and proud.

With some extra emphasis on the LOUD part.

That’s basically what she’s known for. You can hear my mom screaming for me for miles around, it seems like. I can definitely hear her from down on the field. She just, I don’t know … she just really gets into it when she sees me playing.

There have been times when even Coach Swinney can hear it. And Coach, he just kind of got used to it. He gets it. You know what I mean? Because that’s just my mom.

She cares a ton.

And if you’re within … let’s say 50 rows of her on game day, you’re gonna know all about it.

So now it’s time for me to go out and make my mom as proud of me as I am of her. And you better believe that I’m going to do every last thing in my power to make sure I don’t let her down when I get to the NFL.

I can’t wait for that day in the near future when she’s screaming her head off in an NFL stadium while watching me do big things in the league.

And coming out of Clemson, Receiver U, I feel like I’m well-prepared to make that happen. I’ve been taught well, believe me. And I know all about the legacy our position group has built up over the past decade or so.

It’s honestly unbelievable to me that my name is in the record books at Clemson alongside Sammy and Nuk when it comes to career touchdowns. That blows me away. Those are two of the most incredible playmakers in all of football. Those guys are legends. Already. So to be in the conversation with those two? It just feels really, really good.

And, at the same time … it tells me that I’m ready.

Mike Comer/Getty Images

To all the GMs and coaches out there … I’m someone you can trust to come in and add something special to the mix.

I can make all the catches you need, and then come down with those 50-50 balls when a huge grab is absolutely critical. I’m big. I can run. I’ve shown up and been at my best in some of the biggest games on our schedule.

But you can check out the tape.

There’s no point in me giving you my résumé or pitch. Those game films, my numbers … that stuff’s all out there.

What I do want to say here, though, is that what I bring to table is so much more than TD catches and first downs and YAC numbers.

The big thing with me is….

Me!

Like … me the person.

I’m someone who has lived through some stuff, someone who appreciates every single day and goes out of his way to bring a ton of optimism and positive energy to the locker room. My whole vibe is just … put in the work, never complain, and earn the respect of the veterans. Show people right away that you’re someone they can trust, someone who will always have their backs.

I’m never going to take anything for granted. Ever.

I stay humble. And really, after all that you know about me now, think about it….

How could I not?

FEATURED STORIES