Joel Figueroa

Joel Figueroa steps back in the Ticats twilight zone

A rash of injuries have forced the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to use four different left tackles in the past five weeks — and it's led head coach Kent Austin to wonder if there's a little pre-Halloween sorcery going on in the bowels of some nefarious opposing stadium.

"Somebody's got a voodoo doll on us at left tackle and they're are sticking needles into us," Austin said.

The run of injuries began with Jake Olson, who was having a solid sophomore season before tearing his patella in a week 12 matchup against the Edmonton Eskimos (the same game that saw quarterback Zach Collaros lost for the year with a torn ACL.) Joel Figueroa took over for Olson the following week, but was hurt (again) in the loss to Calgary.

Rookie Cord Howard was up next, starting in the Oct. 19 win over Montreal and again last week vs. the Lions. But he was forced from the game with a lower body injury in the first half, only to be replaced by Canadian guard Ryan Bomben — who then suffered an arm injury that will likely cost him the rest of the season.

So now the Ticats are in need of a starting guard and another left tackle.

"It's tough, because you want to put the most competitive group up front, because it starts there," Austin said.

Veteran Tim O'Neill will step in at guard, while Figueroa looks set to return to the tackle spot on Sunday against the Redblacks. A talented and athletic player, Figueroa has missed 21 games over the past three seasons due to injury and has made just four starts this season.

"Figs hasn't played a lot this year, but the good news is he's been with us, so we trust that he'll play well," Austin said.

In addition to Figueroa, the Ticats could also see the return of veteran receiver Bakari Grant, who has been plagued by injuries. They have forced him to miss eight of the last 10 games. He has 30 catches and 447 yards and also brings a physical dimension to the receiving corps.

"It's looking good for Bakari, so that's real positive for us," Austin said.

The Redblacks are having their injury issues as well. Quarterback Henry Burris missed his second straight practice on Thursday with a knee injury, though head coach Rick Campbell told Ottawa media that he was "very confident," Burris would play Sunday.

If Burris can't go, Thomas DeMarco would get the nod for Ottawa. Burris has 219 career starts, DeMarco six and Austin was cagey on how a change at quarterback might alter Hamilton's defensive game plan.

"We might tailor it a little bit," he said, smiling.

And what does a tailor use to get the job done?


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Joel Figueroa Switches Positions For Team

The Ticats are testing driving a new look offensive line at this year’s training camp.

Tackles Brian Simmons and Joel Figueroa have flipped spots while a handful of others are competing for spots on the interior of the line.

Head coach Kent Austin says they want to see if the switch at tackle makes the o-line better.

Hamilton allowed a CFL worst 65 sacks last season, and Austin admits that he thought of making the switch in 2013.

“This year we’re at a little bit different place with our understanding of what we are trying to do,” said Austin.

Offensive line coach Allen Rudolph says it’s a good time to try the experiment.

Rudolph says, “In case of injury or whatever we can bounce those guys around,” adding they have some good depth in the trenches and are “mixing and matching” to see which player is the best fit at each spot.

Figueroa is willing to help the team in any way, saying “I do whatever the coach asks me, play both sides or any interior” position if it helps the team, “I’m glad to help.”

Moving from right to left tackle brings a change in stance, foot work and hand movements for the hulking Miami University grad, but says “it’s nothing really big, it’s pretty much the same.”

Simmons is relishing the opportunity to expand his skills, saying the technique and angles are different, but he likes it, “Because this is my fourth camp, I need a challenge.”

The 29-year-old Simmons is also rubbing some A5-35 on body parts that he doesn’t normally reach.

“I’m used to everything on the left (side of his body) hurtin’, now everything on the right side is hurtin’,” he said with a smile, “so it’s nice to get a change.”

Simmons says apart from the physical stress that comes with training camp, he says the mental preparation “is the biggest challenge for me.”

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Ticats’ Joel Figueroa ‘absolutely loves the game’


HAMILTON — The defensive back is running towards the end zone. He's picked off a Henry Burris pass and, even though it's practice, he's steaming towards the goal line as his fellow DBs whoop and holler encouragement.

Offensive tackle Joel Figueroa does not like this. He's running full speed in pursuit, weaving through coaches, equipment guys, and teammates, 20 yards, 30 yards, now 40 yards. The defensive back starts to pull up. Figueroa does not.


Professional football players don't tackle in practice and they certain don't flatten their teammates. Figueroa knows it's wrong — this is not the first time he's done it — but he's like a kid who can't help but touch the hot stove, even though he knows better.

"I don't like turnovers and when it happens, I see red and I attack. The DB wasn't moving as fast as I thought he was and I kind of just ran into him," Figueroa explains, somewhat apologetically (but not really.) "If you intercept the ball or pick up a fumble and run, then it's live. If you stop, then I'll stop. I'm not going to let you score, even in practice."

It is entirely possible that Joel Figueroa is 12-year-old boy trapped in a giant body. He plays the game with an energy and enthusiasm that's infectious, almost playful. Ask his teammates about him — even his head coach — and they inevitably begin to chuckle.

"We love Figs. He absolutely loves the game and we love players that love football," said Kent Austin. "He'll block anywhere. He'll block in the stands if has an opportunity to, if the whistle hasn't been blown.

"I'm from the deep South — we like physical football players."

Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami, Figueroa played his college ball at the University of Miami and seemed on track for a pro career before a rash of injuries cut into his playing time. Back surgery before his senior season — he was given another year of eligibility due to its severity — scared off all of his potential NFL suitors.

He sat out a year after graduation, staying in shape and working out, hoping for an opportunity. But he also did something far more valuable with his time.
It was nearly two years ago that Figueroa's brother-in-law was killed in car accident, leaving behind a pregnant wife and young son. The entire Figueroa clan stepped into the breach — Joel is the youngest of three in a tight family — including "Uncle Joey."

"Every chance I get, I look after those kids like they're my own. There's a lot of motivation to make sure they grow up happy, finish school," Figueroa said. "We play around all the time, trying to tire them out. They end up wearing me out though.

"Their love and support keeps me focused."

After a steep learning curve — Figueroa admits he didn't know it was three downs, 12-men or a bigger field when he first got here – the six-foot-six, 320 pounder has now settled into in a starting role the last two weeks. He naked aggression has been integral in the Ticats finally establishing a much-needed running game and improving Burris' protection.

"At times we have to dial him down but it's easier to dial a guy down than to dial him up," Austin said.

The coach adds one more caveat.

"We don't want Figueroa tackling our guys. That six-six, 340 landing on our little DBs," Austin said. "We don't need that."

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PHOTO: Joel Figueroa Celebrates A TigerCats TD


Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Left to Right) Samuel Giguere, Mike Ingersoll, Justin Hilton, Greg Ellingson, and Joel Figueroa celebrate Ellingson's touchdown. (CP/Aaron Lynett)

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