Graduation day meant much more to Georgia fullback Bruce Figgins than earning a degree.
He had overcome five years‚Äô 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‚Äô 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.
‚ÄúWhen you‚Äôre in school and you‚Äôre taking your classes, you think, ‚ÄòI can‚Äôt wait to finish, I can‚Äôt wait to finish,‚Äô‚Äù Bruce Figgins said. ‚ÄúBut when it hits, it‚Äôs more for your family to enjoy and a chance to see your parents and make them feel proud. It‚Äôs 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.‚Äù
Bruce Figgins received his degree in communications studies on Dec. 16 with his entire family watching. Kim Figgins has never one of her son‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúIt was a big, big moment for all of us,‚Äù Kim Figgins said. ‚ÄúIt was a very proud moment in our family‚Äôs life, and we knew he could do it. That‚Äôs 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.‚Äù
Doctors caught Kim Figgins‚Äô 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.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm doing great,‚Äù Kim Figgins said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm feeling good and if I wasn‚Äôt feeling good, I‚Äôd probably not say anything about it. I‚Äôm blessed that I got up this morning and I‚Äôm thankful for every day. I‚Äôm feeling great. I couldn‚Äôt be any better.‚Äù
OBSTACLES PART OF FIGGINS‚Äô 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.
‚ÄúBruce is definitely a guy who didn‚Äôt have the easiest road here at Georgia ,‚Äù tight end Aron White said. ‚ÄúI had the pleasure to be here all five years with him because we came in together as tight ends, so I‚Äôve seen him at his highs and at his lows. What he‚Äôs been through this past year, especially with his mom, has bee trying to him. But he‚Äôs handled it with grace. He‚Äôs definitely come out and stayed positive. I can‚Äôt believe how much he‚Äôs rebounded off those years that were kind of rough on him. He‚Äôs come out this year and been a major factor on this team and a guy we can depend on. I‚Äôm so excited that he‚Äôs gotten to see the field and he‚Äôs leaving on a positive note.‚Äù
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‚Äôs direction under Mark Richt.
Then Kim Figgins told her son that she was undergoing treatments for breast cancer.
‚ÄúWhen you hear that word, you automatically expect the worst,‚Äù Bruce Figgins said. ‚ÄúYou just don‚Äôt know. But I have a praying family, a strong family. There was a lot on me because I wasn‚Äôt sure. But we did a lot of praying about it. We‚Äôre still praying about it and you hope for the best. I see her right now and she‚Äôs good. She‚Äôs doing well. They caught it early, so she‚Äôs doing well.‚Äù
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‚Äôs twin sister, Patience, pressured their mother to break the news early in the season.
‚ÄúThat was so very hard on him,‚Äù Kim Figgins said. ‚ÄúWhen 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‚Äôve 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, ‚ÄòIf you say we can do it, we can do it.‚Äô
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre doing it and it‚Äôs great.‚Äù
FIGGINS FINDS STRENGTH IN TEAM, FAMILY
News of his mother‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúSometimes I think guys are too afraid to bring something up like that; they want to keep it inside,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúBut 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‚Äôs grown up quite a bit.‚Äù
The team wore helmet stickers in honor of Kim Figgins during the Tennessee game. In the weeks after receiving the news, Bruce Figgins‚Äô playing time increased, the Bulldogs won 10 consecutive games and Kim Figgins‚Äô health improved.
‚ÄúThis whole year‚Äôs been a blessing,‚Äù Bruce Figgins said. ‚ÄúJust 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‚Äôt change anything. You can‚Äôt complain about what happened this year. I had a good season and I‚Äôm happy. My mom is doing well. She‚Äôs all smiles.‚Äù
With his degree in hand and his mother in good health, Figgins plans to take a shot at the NFL. If that doesn‚Äôt 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.
‚ÄúBruce is a special, special kid, and I hope the Bulldog Nation sees that,‚Äù Kim Figgins said. ‚ÄúGeorgia couldn‚Äôt have been a better place for him. We hated the times when he couldn‚Äôt play. But it made him a better person. Bruce is not the same boy I sent there all those years ago and that‚Äôs 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.‚Äù