Figgins’ year offers bright spot through mother’s battle with cancer

Graduation day meant much more to Georgia fullback Bruce Figgins than earning a degree.

Figgins' year offers bright spot through mother's battle with cancer
Roger Clarkson

He had overcome five years’ worth of personal pitfalls and hurdles, both on and off the football field, and had ridden a roller coaster of emotion as his team struggled to return to its winning tradition.

But the presence of Figgins’ mother, Kim Figgins, in Stegeman Coliseum when he earned his diploma turned a red-letter moment in his life into a day of celebration for the entire family. Because the same time Bruce Figgins finished his senior season and checked off his degree requirements, Kim Figgins put up her own fight with breast cancer.

“When you’re in school and you’re taking your classes, you think, ‘I can’t wait to finish, I can’t wait to finish,’” Bruce Figgins said. “But when it hits, it’s more for your family to enjoy and a chance to see your parents and make them feel proud. It’s more for them. I was excited that whole night and leading into that morning. She said she was proud of me and it felt good. It felt really good.”

Bruce Figgins received his degree in communications studies on Dec. 16 with his entire family watching. Kim Figgins has never one of her son’s football games, no matter how far away they were. So making the trip from Columbus to Athens for his graduation was like a walk around the block.

“It was a big, big moment for all of us,” Kim Figgins said. “It was a very proud moment in our family’s life, and we knew he could do it. That’s what we sent him there to do. When he went there, he thought he was just going to play football. But we wanted him to graduate and he did that. It was a very emotional moment and it was very overwhelming.”

Doctors caught Kim Figgins’ cancer in its early stages and it has retreated. Although she has regular checkups and periodic treatments, Kim Figgins feels good and is ready to watch Bruce set off on the next phase of his life.

“I’m doing great,” Kim Figgins said. “I’m feeling good and if I wasn’t feeling good, I’d probably not say anything about it. I’m blessed that I got up this morning and I’m thankful for every day. I’m feeling great. I couldn’t be any better.”

 

OBSTACLES PART OF FIGGINS’ MATURATION

Bruce Figgins came to Georgia in 2007 as a tight end. His initial on-field success was fleeting as he fought for snaps behind more experienced players.

He played through a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery as a sophomore in 2008 and missed the 2009 season because of suspension, eventually taking a redshirt. Last season, he played sparingly as a blocking specialist.

“Bruce is definitely a guy who didn’t have the easiest road here at Georgia ,” tight end Aron White said. “I had the pleasure to be here all five years with him because we came in together as tight ends, so I’ve seen him at his highs and at his lows. What he’s been through this past year, especially with his mom, has bee trying to him. But he’s handled it with grace. He’s definitely come out and stayed positive. I can’t believe how much he’s rebounded off those years that were kind of rough on him. He’s come out this year and been a major factor on this team and a guy we can depend on. I’m so excited that he’s gotten to see the field and he’s leaving on a positive note.”

Figgins began his senior season with a position change from tight end and became a starter at fullback. The team lost its first two games and speculation swirled about the program’s direction under Mark Richt.

Then Kim Figgins told her son that she was undergoing treatments for breast cancer.

“When you hear that word, you automatically expect the worst,” Bruce Figgins said. “You just don’t know. But I have a praying family, a strong family. There was a lot on me because I wasn’t sure. But we did a lot of praying about it. We’re still praying about it and you hope for the best. I see her right now and she’s good. She’s doing well. They caught it early, so she’s doing well.”

Bruce Figgins has lived almost full-time in Athens since he came to Georgia from his home in Columbus. Kim Figgins did not want to worry her son so she did not tell him her diagnosis for several months. Bruce’s twin sister, Patience, pressured their mother to break the news early in the season.

“That was so very hard on him,” Kim Figgins said. “When I told him, he got very quiet. Then I told him we can fight this because we have no choice. I told him that I have something to live for. I have graduation. I have his marriage. I have grandbabies to see. I’ve got so much to live for, I can do this. When I told him that, he was just like a 3-year-old baby. He said, ‘If you say we can do it, we can do it.’

“We’re doing it and it’s great.”

 

FIGGINS FINDS STRENGTH IN TEAM, FAMILY

News of his mother’s illness was the most serious hurdle in a college career full of barriers for Figgins. Although Figgins likes to keep his feelings to himself, he asked for help during a team devotional before the Mississippi State game, and the program came to his aid.

“Sometimes I think guys are too afraid to bring something up like that; they want to keep it inside,” Richt said. “But Bruce showed good leadership to be transparent enough to let people know he was struggling a little bit. The team rallied around him and that was great. The guys have always loved Bruce. Bruce showed a lot of selflessness by moving positions. He showed a great attitude and became a starter for us. He’s grown up quite a bit.”

The team wore helmet stickers in honor of Kim Figgins during the Tennessee game. In the weeks after receiving the news, Bruce Figgins’ playing time increased, the Bulldogs won 10 consecutive games and Kim Figgins’ health improved.

“This whole year’s been a blessing,” Bruce Figgins said. “Just starting with the season and my contributions to the team has been a blessing. I was able to graduate. Our team made it to a bowl game and had a winning record going into the bowl game. I wouldn’t change anything. You can’t complain about what happened this year. I had a good season and I’m happy. My mom is doing well. She’s all smiles.”

With his degree in hand and his mother in good health, Figgins plans to take a shot at the NFL. If that doesn’t work out, Figgins plans to become a coach so he can help the next generation of athletes and give back the way his coaches gave to him.

“Bruce is a special, special kid, and I hope the Bulldog Nation sees that,” Kim Figgins said. “Georgia couldn’t have been a better place for him. We hated the times when he couldn’t play. But it made him a better person. Bruce is not the same boy I sent there all those years ago and that’s a good thing. I thank God for Mark Richt and the opportunity he gave Bruce, and I thank God for the man Bruce has become.”

 

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