Keystone hires first coach

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Justin Higgins at his introductory news conference
Keystone athletics photo

Keystone has hired Justin Higgins as its new football coach as the Giants revive their program after a decades-long hiatus.

A native of Warrensburg, New York, Higgins comes to Keystone after most recently serving one year as special teams coordinator/recruiting coordinator at NCAA Division II Seton Hill, a member of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. In his first year as recruiting coordinator, the Griffins brought in 41 student-athletes as part of the 2018 graduating class. 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.

“My family and I are thrilled to be at Keystone College,” 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.

Keystone is 30-40 miles north of three existing Division III football programs: King's, Misericordia and Wilkes. The three, all members of the Middle Atlantic Conference for football, went a combined 6-24 last season, with Miseri and Wilkes a combined 1-19.

Prior to Seton Hill, he coached at Morrisville State, where he served as defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator. During his time at Morrisville, the Mustangs competed in the New Jersey Athletic Conference and the Empire 8.

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.

Higgins began his coaching career in 1999 at Ithaca as a defensive assistant, and, in 2000, joined the coaching staff at Kean 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 at Lehigh, a Division I FCS program.

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. Higgins earned his bachelor’s degree from Ithaca, where he played football and baseball. He earned his master’s degree from Kean 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. 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 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.”

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