Photo caption: Recently announced Keystone College football coach Justin Higgins speaks at a Keystone College welcome reception on Wednesday, March 28, 2018.
Keystone College has hired Justin Higgins as its new football coach as the Giants revive their gridiron tradition after a decades-long hiatus.
A native of Warrensburg, N.Y., Coach Higgins comes to Keystone after most recently serving one year as special teams coordinator/recruiting coordinator at NCAA Division II Seton Hill University, a member of the highly regarded Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. In his first year as recruiting coordinator, the Griffins brought in 41 student-athletes as part of the Class of 2018. On the field, his special teams ranked in the top 25 percent in the nation in blocked kicks, along with ranking eighth in the country in kick-return defense.
Prior to Seton Hill, he coached at Division III Morrisville (N.Y.) State College, where he served as defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator. During his time at Morrisville, the Mustangs competed in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) and the Empire 8 Conference.
In the team’s last season in the NJAC, Morrisville finished with a 9-2 record, claiming a share of the NJAC title and a victory in an ECAC bowl game. Defensively, the Mustangs ranked first in the NJAC in pass defense and second as a team in sacks. In their inaugural season in the Empire 8, the Morrisville defense ranked 24th overall in NCAA Division III in rushing defense and first in the Empire 8 in third-down defense. They also had three players rank in the top 10 for sacks in the conference.
Coach Higgins began his coaching career in 1999 at Ithaca College as a defensive assistant, and, in 2000, joined the coaching staff at Kean University as a wide receivers coach before being promoted to defensive line coach in 2001. Following his time at Kean, Higgins served as an assistant defensive backs coach for Division I Lehigh University.
Before Lehigh, he initially came to Morrisville in 2004, serving as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator for three seasons, before coaching for two years at Utica College. Coach Higgins earned his bachelor’s degree from Ithaca College, where he played football and baseball. He earned his master’s degree from Kean University and became certified to teach history, health, and elementary education. He has also taught elementary and high school American history as well as college coaching courses. Coach Higgins and his wife, Korrie, are parents of three daughters: Averie, age 8; Kacie, age 6; Emilie, 10 months; and a son, Rhett, age 4.
“We are absolutely delighted to have Justin on board to lead the Keystone College football program,” said Keystone Athletic Director Dr. Matt Grimaldi. “Justin has the experience, successful track record, and positive attitude we sought in a head coach. Even more importantly, he is keenly aware of the balance between academic excellence and athletic success needed for a complete Keystone College experience.”
“My family and I are thrilled to be at Keystone College,” Coach Higgins said. “I can’t wait to get started as we work to build a football program that reflects the values and traditions that have made Keystone what it is today. We are so very proud to be part of the Keystone community.”
The 2018-19 academic year will be a year of preparation and training for the coaches and players, as well as the recruitment of additional student-athletes. The Giants will take the field for their first games in the fall of 2019, playing a limited schedule as an independent team not affiliated with any conference. Keystone will seek an affiliation with a Division III football conference and will play a complete schedule beginning in the fall of 2020. Keystone will remain a member of the Colonial States Athletic Conference for all other varsity sports.
The Giants will play their home games at the school’s Athletic Field and Track Complex, which opened in 2014. While football will be a new experience for current students and fans, Keystone has a proud football tradition. The team competed in football in the 1890s as Keystone Academy and the program in the late 1940s. In addition to baseball, Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson was a member of the Keystone football squad from 1895-1897. Thus, the new football program continues a proud gridiron tradition as it becomes Keystone’s 22nd varsity sport.
Enrolling about 1,400 students, Keystone offers more than 40 undergraduate and graduate degree options in liberal arts and science-based programs in business, communications, education, fine arts, natural science, environmental resource management, geology, and social sciences. Located 15 minutes from Scranton, Pa. and two hours from New York City and Philadelphia, Keystone is known for small class sizes and individual attention focused on student success through internships, research, and community involvement.