by Mia Magana
Starting out young in football, the goals are set high with the players needing to be a powerhouse of dedication while showing immense devotion to the sport.
In the case of college football, when a player is young with a multitude of potential there comes more attention and even greater benefits. Nick Figueroa is a sophomore defensive lineman for the Riverside City College Tigers and is capturing much attention.
Figueroa got his start playing both baseball and football in his high school years and took inspiration from his peers as motivation to take his obvious talents to the college level.
“Our football team was pretty good,” Figueroa said. “I saw a lot of kids getting scholarships, and I thought I would go out there and give it a try since I am a fan of football. But that is kind of what got me started. I got a scholarship to Cal Poly. I went there for two quarters and had the worst time, I thought I could do something a little bigger. I knew RCC provided that window of opportunity to get somewhere better, so I reached out to these coaches and told them my story and everything and they got me hooked up here. Now I’m here, and will be headed somewhere better (soon) so it’s paid off.”
In his first three games at the start of the 2018 season, Figueroa impressed many with his three sacks for 22 total lost yards as well as his 10 total tackles that brought about 30 total yards lost. This included the season opener against the defending state champions Fullerton College. With such rapid success on the field, the team’s defensive staff and players quickly gravitated towards the 6-foot-7-inch tall talent.
“He’s a leader on our defensive line,” defensive line coach Pene Talamaivao said. “He’s a kid that has really excelled in the weight room and in every part of the game, whether it’s studying film or taking on the younger players and teaching them. He excels here. As far as a player, he’s doing everything. He’s got sacks, tackles for loss, setting edges for us and penetrating. That’s what he’s doing.”
Having made a memorable impression at the beginning of the season, several Division 1 universities took notice and have followed Figueroa’s progress with the Tigers very closely.
With the conclusion of the 2018 season Nov. 10, Figueroa has amassed 11 total sacks with an incredible 75 sack yards, six total assists and an overall 33 tackles coming out to three tackles a game on average.
“Learning our defense was the biggest obstacle for him at the start,” head coach Tom Craft said. “Once he did that, he was able to play free and fast and without fear. That has been the biggest adjustment for him is learning our defense and now he’s comfortable with it. I think that that is why he is playing well.”
Along with being a stand out player on the defense, Figueroa has both impressed and inspired his fellow teammates as well as Craft, who serves his ninth season as the Tigers head coach, with his discipline and academic success off the field.
“He has really been a stand out defensive lineman,” Craft said. “We try to move him around as much as we can, to take advantage of mismatches against him. He is probably one of the best linemen in the Southern California region. He comes from Cajon High School. He’s brilliant as well. He has a 4.0 grade point average. He’s a good student. I think he is a great leader. He leads by example. He’s got great work ethic. He’s got really good habits and it is obvious that he comes from a disciplined background at home. He’s a real bright guy and an excellent student. I think he is well liked by his teammates.”
Now at the conclusion of the 2018 football season, the Tigers look ahead to the Southern California Regional Championships where Figueroa will further attempt to impress the many schools looking to recruit him following the conclusion of the Tigers’ postseason.
Some of the schools that have their eye on the defensive lineman’s talents include the UCLA, University of Central Florida, as well as the current top ranked university in college football, the University of Alabama.
“He’ll finish up as one of the most highly recruited defensive lineman since we have been here,” Craft said. “Alabama is probably one of the biggest compliments you can have right now. UCLA is close to home, it’s a PAC-12 school. There are a number of PAC-12 schools interested in him. He and Vic Viramontes are going to be two of our highest recruited players on the defensive time in some time.”
Given the closing of the season, Figueroa has expressed the goals he holds for himself and the high points of being part of the undefeated Tigers team that will push his desire to finish this season strong.
“I want to play here until game 13, which would be our state championship game Dec. 7,” Figueroa said. “It’s my biggest goal here and I guess playing beyond would be to make that next level very successful and what will be beyond that, as far as my life goes maybe one day be a firefighter or work in business, what I hope to get my degree in. Right now I’m looking at Virginia Tech, UCLA, University of Tennessee and University of Central Florida or University of Houston. Kind of top six but still kind of deciding. We will see what happens, things will probably change here in the coming weeks.”
Figueroa expresses his drive to the sport and how much he is willing to dedicate, being a 19-year-old with such dreams shows he is capable of seizing an opportunity and driving to the highest level of success.
“I think he’s got his best football playing years ahead of him and I think he’s still got room for improvement,” Craft said. “Which is really encouraging for him to go to power five type college. It’ll be an excellent experience for him because of the resources and he could very well end up playing beyond college, there’s no doubt. He always had great potential, he’s a good athlete and he’s got good size and good intelligence. He’s got all the characteristics of someone who can be a really successful lineman. Not only at this level but beyond.”