SPOKANE, Wash. — H.T. Higgins coached Steve Gleason for three years when Gleason was a high school football player at Gonzaga Prep.
Higgins is also one of many Spokane natives making their way to Washington D.C. to see Gleason receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor, on Wednesday.
Gleason grew up in Spokane and attended Gonzaga Prep before playing safety for the Washington State Cougars and the New Orleans Saints. A statue of Gleason blocking a punt against the Atlanta Falcons in the Saints' first home game after Hurricane Katrina stands outside the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
Gleason retired in 2008 after eight seasons in the NFL. He was diagnosed with ALS in Jan. 2011, and has since created Team Gleason, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about ALS, improving the lives of those living with the disease and searching for a cure.
Higgins first met Gleason in 1991 at Gonzaga Prep.
"My relationship with Steve started in about 1991 when he first started at Gonzaga Prep," Higgins said. "I was fortunate enough to coach Steve as a sophomore and a junior and a senior here at Gonzaga Prep in football and then obviously followed him as his path continued through Washington State and with the Saints.”
Higgins told KREM's Mark Hanrahan and Brett Allbery that Gleason has inspired him and the young men that are going through the Gonzaga Prep football program to this day.
"He is a big part of my inspiration and the inspiration of the football program and what he brings to helping develop young men that see something bigger than themselves," Higgins said.
Gleason joins an esteemed list of people to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
Higgins said Gleason is deserving of his place on the list.
"This is really, a really special, special thing," Higgins said. "And you’re talking about people like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the Dalai Lama, and people like that. Steve deserves to be in that group.”
Gleason is beloved by many, and Higgins said he is rare.
"He is rare, what's inside of the man is really rare," Higgins said.