Helping lead the Yellow Jackets’ resurgence in the middle of a senior offensive line, center Justin Bigelow brought an intelligent toughness to a position that requires it on every snap.

Helping lead the Yellow Jackets’ resurgence in the middle of a senior offensive line, center Justin Bigelow brought an intelligent toughness to a position that requires it on every snap.


"At first I was apprehensive about it. I had played all the spots on the line and ended up at center," Bigelow said. "You have to run the show there. It all worked out well for me."


Bigelow took the next step in his athletic career when he signed his national letter of intent on Wednesday to play football for Southwestern Oklahoma State.


He chose the Bulldogs over Southeastern Oklahoma State, Austin College, Harding, Tyler Junior College and the opportunity to walk on at Tulsa. Some of those schools were interested in him as a defensive lineman but Bigelow wanted to remain on the offensive side of the ball.


"I think I’m pretty good and some schools say ‘you’re not tall enough,’" Bigelow said. "I knew that I wasn’t going to be looked at as much because of my height. It just makes me work harder."


Both of Bigelow’s parents went to Southwestern. His father Gary, a Denison assistant, was an all-conference defensive tackle and played for the Bulldogs’ 1996 NAIA national championship team.


"It probably had something to do with it but we wanted to look at all the options," Bigelow said. "It’s a good little bonus."


A two-year starter for the Yellow Jackets, he served as the anchor on an offense line that helped Denison win a share of the 13-4A crown and make the playoffs for the first time in four seasons with a 6-5 mark after winning two games in 2012.


Denison had its best offensive output since 2009, averaging 37.8 points and 448.5 yards — 343.9 on the ground — in 11 games following a bi-district loss to Sulphur Springs. And the improvement came with Bigelow, like the Jackets adjusting to a new quarterback two games into the season.


"We started meshing in the middle and end of our junior season and we came back this year and got on a run," he said. "At the end it worked out. We finally did it."


The 5-10, 265-pound Bigelow was the unanimous choice at center in District 13-4A after grading out at 95 percent with 31 pancakes and 26 knockdowns. He was also an academic all-state honorable mention pick by the Texas High School Coaches Association. He started all 21 of his games at the varsity level, including earning second-team all-district honors as a junior.


Part of Bigelow’s success in the trenches is his strength. He will look to return to the state powerlifting meet this spring after taking fifth in the 275-pound weight class at the Division 1 meet last year with a total of 1,630 pounds — including a bench press of 405 pounds.


In two meets last month he has already surpassed both of those totals. He benched 500 pounds at the Anna Invitational and followed that with a season-best 1,825 total pounds at a meet in Sulphur Springs.


Bigelow might not redshirt his freshman season, even though the starting center, Austin Maly will be a junior in the fall. That would put Bigelow on track to have a chance to earning the starting spot as a sophomore.


"The competition’s open. I’m going to work my tail off to be the starter," Bigelow said. "If a redshirt happens that’s fine with me."


Southwestern Oklahoma State went 6-5 this past season and 6-4 in the Great American Conference. The Bulldogs tripled their win total from 2012 and had a winning record for the first time since sharing the Lone Star Conference North Division title in 2007.


Bigelow will join Whitesboro’s Cody Welch, who was a redshirt freshman last season, on the roster.