Coach Bob Belanger, left, said Ryan Higgins is one of the best wrestlers he’s had at Billerica High. SUN/SCOT LANGDON
Coach Bob Belanger, left, said Ryan Higgins is one of the best wrestlers he's had at Billerica High. SUN/SCOT LANGDON

BILLERICA -- If ever a wrestler proved that brains and brawn need not be strangers, it's Ryan Higgins, whose attention to detail, work ethic and competitive drive have enabled him to emerge as a force to be reckoned with.

A resolute grappler who has relied far more on conditioning and technique than natural ability to pin down success during his varsity career, this Billerica High senior co-captain heads into this weekend's MIAA Division 1 State Tournament at Newton South looking to defend his title at 285 pounds.

The Indians' ever-growing legend of the fall specializes in takedowns. Higgins has compiled an overall record of 36-2 with 25 pins this winter. He won the 285 title at the Division 1 North Sectional on Saturday.

Billerica High star wrestler Ryan Higgins laughs at a question from a reporter during practice Monday. SUN/SCOT LANGDON
Billerica High star wrestler Ryan Higgins laughs at a question from a reporter during practice Monday. SUN/SCOT LANGDON

"I go into every match with a plan of attack and it's a matter of executing it," said Higgins. "Winning has as much to do with out-thinking the guy you're wrestling as out-muscling him."

Higgins, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 230, wrestled at 220 the majority of this season since Billerica needed someone to fill that weight class. Although he was ranked the second best wrestler in the state at 220 by MassWrestling.com, Higgins decided to go back up to 285 in the postseason.

"I think for him, he feels more comfortable wrestling at heavyweight," said Billerica coach Bob Belanger. "His athleticism gives him an edge. His experience is a big help. He's put in the time on the mat that it takes to win at a high level.


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Although he is good in all facets of the sport, Higgins does his best wrestling on his feet. He seizes the moment with all the fervor of one of his signature double-leg takedowns.

"I'll be honest with you, when he came in (to the program) he was below average," said Belanger. "But because of his work ethic and the way he bought in, he's gotten better and better. He's really a self-made force.

"There are some kids who have some success and they think they don't have to put the work in anymore.

Billerica High senior wrestling star Ryan Higgins, right, works on his craft at practice Monday afternoon. He’s attempting to repeat as a state
Billerica High senior wrestling star Ryan Higgins, right, works on his craft at practice Monday afternoon. He's attempting to repeat as a state champion. SUN/SCOT LANGDON
There's nothing at the state level that's handed to you. You have to earn it no matter what. With him, he's been a consistent winner because he hasn't stopped working."

Higgins was an MVC all-conference lineman on Billerica's football team. Since September, Higgins has been going to the gym from 5 to 6 a.m. routinely before school, and is currently max-benching 315 pounds.

"The best part of this sport is you get out of it what you put into it," said Higgins. "You put the work in and you will succeed. But you can't take anything for granted. You have to take it one opponent at a time, one move at a time, one period at a time, one match at a time. I just keep wrestling in the moment. You never want to get caught looking ahead."

Higgins has done a great job adding fame to his family's good wrestling name. His grappling bloodlines include his father, Stephen, a former wrestler at Shawsheen Tech. Both of his older brothers, Stephen (Shawsheen Tech) and Dillon (Billerica), were standout wrestlers. Dillon won a Division 1 state title at 285. Higgins' uncle, Norman Long, was a star wrestler at Lowell High.

"Determination is the determining factor in everything you do on the mat," said Higgins. "I want to be better than my brothers when it comes to all that they achieved during their high school careers. So I knew I had my work cut out for me to become the best brother on the mat."

His mother, Amy, and father have been the biggest influences in a mat career that began when Higgins was in pre-school.

"My parents helped me big-time," said Higgins. "I can't thank them enough for all they've done."

As a junior, Higgins posted a 47-8 record en route to winning a state title and placing second at All-States.

"He absolutely ranks up there with the best wrestlers I've coached," said Belanger. "Anyone who earns a state title, that's an honor that's very hard to achieve."

Higgins has been contacted by several college football and wrestling coaches but hasn't finalized his future plans. Right now, he's focused on finishing his senior wrestling campaign on a high note.

"I'm sure every wrestler heading into states believes they can win," said Higgins. "I know I have to be at my best. That's why I'm working so hard."

Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi