For San Clemente High senior Dave Higgins, the journey started in the backyard of an Arkansas farm.
As a 7-year-old boy, Higgins—never the one to sit still indoors—was out in the back of his grandparents’ farm, plunking away at cans with a BB gun his uncle had gave him. Higgins’ father, Dave Higgins Sr., remembers his son sitting outside for hours every day during the family’s weeklong visit.
According to the father, the kid got to be a pretty good shot in that short, seven-day span.
When the family returned home to California, Higgins put away the rifle and didn’t pick it back up for several years.
As a Marine Corps colonel, Dave Higgins Sr.’s job dictates that the family relocate every now and then.
When the younger Higgins turned 13, the family left San Clemente for Louisiana and it was there that Higgins returned to his love of rifle shooting. He picked up a high-powered rifle and began shooting at targets hundreds of yards away. The hobby quickly turned into something more, as his skills and accuracy improved. Higgins started competing in rifle shooting tournaments by the time he was 14 and hasn’t looked back.
Now, the family is back in San Clemente and Dave Higgins Jr. is headed to the U.S. Air Force Academy on a full scholarship, where he will compete for their elite rifle team. On June 7, at this year’s senior awards banquet at San Clemente High, Higgins was recognized by his personal Air Force student liaison in front of his peers and teachers. The Air Force would be more than happy to foot the bill for the senior’s education, room, board and all other amenities over the four-year span—costing around $415,000, Dave Higgins Jr. recalled the liaison saying.
“It was nice to get recognized for getting in,” he said. “(The Air Force) told me that about only 1,000 out of the 13,000 or so that apply get in.”
“We are extremely proud, honored and humbled by (Higgins’ acceptance into the Air Force Academy),” Higgins Sr. said. “It’s really amazing.”
Before he got accepted to the Air Force Academy, Higgins had to mold his game to fit the collegiate and international style of competition. That meant dropping the high-powered rifle and learning to use a small bore, scoped, .22 caliber rifle and an air-powered pellet rifle to shoot at distances of 200, 300 and 600 yards. It also meant having to master the four different stances each competitive rifle shooter is expected to perform in.
Dave Higgins Jr. admits he struggles at times when shooting from his knees, but excels in the prone position, which involves a shooter lying on his stomach and firing.
The Air Force first got a glimpse of Higgins when he visited the campus in Colorado Springs, a trip he was reluctant to make at the time.
“I didn’t want to go (to the campus),” said Dave Higgins Jr., who plans on majoring in systems engineering with a minor in aerospace. “I had no interest (in the Air Force) at all. But I took a tour of (the campus)… and the educational program seemed great. It seemed like the right fit.”
Higgins will soon start basic training, which he says he is treating like an “extended summer camp.” From there, he will look to start his collegiate career on the rifle team as a freshman. It’s a long way away from the farm in Arkansas, but Higgins says he is focused and ready.
San Clemente’s Dave Higgins is heading to the Air Force Academy in the fall to compete for their rifle team. Courtesy photo
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