NEW ORLEANS -- Tim Hightower couldn’t sleep Sunday night. And he couldn’t help but share the excitement and adrenaline that were still brimming over after he ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns in the New Orleans Saints' 38-27 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 29-year-old has found new life in the NFL after more than three years out of the league. And he insisted that he’s not taking a moment of it for granted.
“I couldn’t sleep last night ..... Just so humbled and thankful for everything,” Hightower posted in a Twitter message shortly after 6 a.m. on Monday morning. “This has been a true journey that has tested me in every way and I love it and am thankful for it. I needed every lesson, every bit of courage, strength, wisdom and resolve.... I needed forgiveness, love for myself and my family, love for God.... I needed faith beyond anything I could have ever seen physically.... I’m just amazed at how blessed I am and how good God has been to me.....
“To have a positive impact on my family, community and so many I love means more to me than any accolade or dollar amount. I’m so glad I didn’t give up.... I can’t imagine what life would be like if I had to wonder what if.......”
Hightower said Monday that the feeling he had this week was even different than when he played in his first game in November or had his first big breakout performance two weeks ago.
“It wasn’t a nervous feeling at all, it wasn’t an anxious feeling. I was just so excited. I wanted to get back to work,” Hightower said. “When you have an opportunity like this that I’ve been given, you just want to take advantage of it. You don’t want it to end.
“I was just so thankful and so excited going to sleep, and I just kept thinking about what I could have done better and, ‘What could I do next week to get better?’"
Hightower, who began his career with the Arizona Cardinals and Washington Redskins from 2008-11, tore his ACL with the Redskins in 2011. He tried to come back the next summer but didn’t discover until a year later that an infection was stunting his recovery. He finally got a chance to return to the NFL when the Saints signed him this past January. He didn’t make the team at first but returned after an injury to backup Khiry Robinson.
Now, Hightower has emerged as New Orleans’ leading man over the past three weeks after an injury to Mark Ingram. He has delivered in a big way, with 261 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns and 98 receiving yards.
His 30 touches and 169 yards from scrimmage Sunday were both career highs.
Saints coach Sean Payton said the idea of Hightower being a feel-good story didn’t influence the decision to sign him in January or bring him back in November. But he said the team knew he would be a low-risk pickup with potentially high reward. And his character and attitude have been great pluses.
Hightower waited at the locker room entrance and hugged his teammates one by one after his big performance in a win at Tampa Bay two weeks ago.
“It comes up probably in every offseason for teams, where you’re looking at a player who’s wanting an opportunity, who at one time excelled at his position and ... usually from injury had setbacks,” Payton said. “Tim was obviously very well-regarded as a running back at Arizona and Washington before the injury. And then having a chance when he’s in the offseason program to get to know him and see how important it was to him. You don’t root for guys, but certainly you understand and appreciate his demeanor and work ethic.
“And even at the start of the season, we had to release him and then re-sign him, so he’s had a long path. And yet every step of the way, man, he’s intent on getting better, the way he prepares. I mean if you ask the players that play with him, he’s a consummate pro.
“I think the world of him and certainly respect the fight he has [gone through] to get back on the field.”