The first couple will be available free, while the rest of the series is accessible to subscribers. He can exhale now, though, as he recounts those frenetic final days before he signed with USC. It would take him almost all of the available time -- most of it spent on that couch -- before his planned signing ceremony at 11 a. It is crazy. It is absolutely crazy. From a longtime baseball player to making the transition to football as a senior at Cajon High School. And now preparing to compete for a role at USC, one of the most storied programs in the country and the one his family grew up watching.
This is amazing, far beyond anything we ever knew was going to happen. It's been amazing. The best place to start the story, though, is that first pivotal decision that set this all in motion.
Figueroa was more of a baseball guy growing up, and the program at Cajon High School demanded almost a year-round dedication from its players.
He had played for the freshman football team as a ninth grader, but his full focus soon returned to the diamond. It wasn't until his senior year, after enough prodding from different voices, that he decided to truly pursue his potential on the football field.
But it would take longer than that fall for recruiters -- and even perhaps himself -- to properly evaluate that upside. He chose the latter and endured a season with the Mustangs in , though it wasn't just the collective struggles that gave him doubts.
I could have been anywhere and if I wasn't playing on the highest level, I would have always had those wants and regrets, I guess. But what gave him the confidence that he could contribute at a higher level when he wasn't yet getting the opportunity to play for a struggling FCS program? That's the question his parents delicately asked while hoping he wasn't about to make a mistake and walk away from a free education. How do you know if your film's even good enough?
Says Jodi, his mother: "My husband and I were like, we would have never gambled that, but he kind of knew in his head he could do it and he's always kind of been that way when he sets a goal -- he reaches it. So we said, we support whatever you do percent. His father, Felix Figueroa, also recalls the uneasy feeling as he tried to encourage his son to give it time and let the experience at Cal Poly grow on him. We reminded him what he's leaving and what he's risking and his mother and I jumped in behind him.
James Kuk, the defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator at Riverside CC, had been high on the defensive end coming out of high school. In fact, he and the staff at Riverside had Figueroa atop their recruiting board of local prospects. He decided to accept the scholarship opportunity to Cal Poly. Of course in our minds we felt he was capable of playing at a higher level. That's no knock on Cal Poly -- we just saw the potential in Nick," Kuk says now.
He has a great frame, he had good film and we just felt as if he would be a perfect junior college candidate, so I continued to track him. When Figueroa emailed the staff at Riverside to see if there might be a spot for him, they pounced. You don't figure those things out until you go through some stressful moments with him and see how they handle adversity. Even the coaches at RCC, the first time I had a meeting with them and they were like, 'Where do you want to go?
You're going to do something bigger. Portland State, which had been aware of him previously, offered that March, but the Power Five programs needed just a few games of film this fall to get on board as well.
Figueroa broke out in the second game of the season, against Fullerton, with 3. The next week he notched 3 TFLs and 2 sacks vs. San Bernardino Valley, and the stats just kept piling up. Oregon State offered him on Sept. But the fact is the Bruins had offered him a preferred walk-on spot out of high school and now they wanted to give him a scholarship. It was all coming to fruition beyond even his own expectations. It wasn't like we didn't want to recruit you, we just didn't know you yet. Figueroa didn't dwell on USC's late arrival to the party.
Again, his family had grown up fans of the program. He took a photo in front of the Tommy Trojan statue before a game when he was 9 years old. It was another dream school in the mix, so to speak. It's kind of like that thing where you can't go wrong," he says of those final options. He had to cancel a tentative Virginia Tech visit as there just wasn't enough time.
It doesn't get much quicker than that," Figueroa says of the final stage of this whirlwind process. And usually, the phone was ringing. Figueroa estimates he took and received calls between the coaches recruiting him, his coaches, friends, anyone who could offer a perspective.
All the while, his thoughts were constantly fluctuating. I just was planning on figuring it out. I thought it was going to come to me," he recalls. I just was on the phone all day. I think I was just here.
Once I got back on Monday, I just was here until we left on Wednesday. I think I took a nap right here, I sat and FaceTimed over there. So I was around this house just on the phone. He says neither Helton nor Bruins coach Chip Kelly applied any pressure to him -- he was doing a good enough job creating that on his own. I felt a connection to that," Figueroa says. Just wait another night, sleep on it, you'll know in the morning.
Figueroa wasn't the only one stressed, though. His parents felt tense for him, knowing what was at stake but also that nothing was going to happen in the next hour or day to change the opportunities that each school provided.
Meanwhile, Jodi set out during those final days to find that photo of her son in front of Tommy Trojan. Figueroa jokes that there were plenty of signs pointing him to USC, including actual signs, like "Figueroa Street" by campus or the nearby giant "Felix" sign his dad's name.
He had been swayed by the pitch of what a USC degree would mean and the value that comes from being part of the school's alumni network. He liked that the head of the business school was around on both days of his visit, as that's the field of study he intended to pursue. And then he had a final conversation with Kuk, his Riverside coach and confidant throughout the process, on Wednesday morning as they talked about how he viewed both the challenge and opportunity that would await at USC.
That helped seal his decision. I kind of said, 'I need to do it. It was really just special to look at those times, going on that campus and thinking at 9 years old, 'I want to be a Trojan' -- to fulfill those dreams. So finally, around 10 a. He was left racing to get to his own signing ceremony at Riverside, the last to arrive as he tells it, but relieved to have his future set.
So we turned in the NLI. It's already in. Thank you,'" he says. Players on the outside who don't experience it, they think it's this super awesome process, just this great time, official visits and getting to pick your school. Everyone thinks it's just an amazing experience, which it is, but there's some challenges for sure. HIs parents were of course happy with the decision, but they never tried to steer him in any direction -- he had to get there on his own.
We've been fans of the program. We've watched on Saturdays and been lucky to go to a few games, so it was just nice. It's a good fit. As they reflected days later on the wild ride that had just wrapped up, from the decision to gamble on his future to making that final call, Jodi looked at her son and said simply, "Time for a new goal, huh?
As one of USC's nine early enrollees, Figueroa will be competing for a role when spring practice begins in a week and a half. Speaking back in December, he said the Trojans coaches liked his versatility and there was some flexibility for where he'd eventually settle in on the depth chart. They're kind of just seeing who's going to fill that. I've heard different names bounce around.
I think they're looking more at me for D-line D-line. Figueroa, listed by USC at 6-foot-5, pounds, finished the fall with 38 total tackles, So what was it exactly that set Figueroa apart this fall and changed the whole course of his football career? He loves football and loves to compete. He's tough both mentally and physically," Kuk said. You don't know quite how that's going to translate You don't get to quite appreciate how strong he is and how powerful he is from the core, from the waist, from the thighs until you see him get off, lock out and rip through a block and just blow past the shoulder of a pound offensive tackle and see the velocity in person.
Because he redshirted that first year at Cal Poly, he'll have three years of eligibility remaining at USC. Figueroa says he's confident if he competes and has the right approach this spring, he'll find himself on the field come the fall.
But he reiterated he just wants to do whatever he can to help the program. More than anything, he's just happy to be on to this next phase of his football career, everything that preceded it now behind him.
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