Alex Figueroa has been around for only eight spring practices, but mention his name to defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio or coach Al Golden, and you get the sense he isn’t an ordinary freshman linebacker.
For starters, he has been running with the first team since the first practice. Secondly, he’s 6-3, 231 pounds. And lastly, he already has left an impression on last year’s Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year, Hurricanes tailback Duke Johnson.
“He’s not just a kid that works hard — he’s a talented kid that works hard,” Golden said Tuesday, three days after Figueroa made an impression with a crushing goal-line hit on Johnson during the first spring scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium.
Said D’Onofrio: “He’s got a real maturity about him. You can coach him during a practice, and he’ll correct it [right away]. He’s a guy you don’t really need to be on — he’s a guy who is hard enough on himself. He takes his mistakes personal. A guy like that is fun to coach. Right now he’s a freshman in his eighth practice and is essentially running our whole defense. It’s been pretty impressive.”
Rated a three-star recruit after posting 107 tackles and nine sacks as a senior at Brooke Point High in Stafford, Va., Figueroa was a surprise addition to UM’s incoming class in December after spending a year virtually under the radar at prep school. Maryland, Rutgers, Temple and West Virginia all showed interest, but UM was the first to bite with a scholarship offer.
Now it looks like the Hurricanes have struck gold, especially in light that two of the team’s top three underclassmen linebackers from a year ago — Gionni Paul and Eddie Johnson — are no longer on the roster or enrolled in school after their own bouts with maturity issues. Figueroa is actually wearing Paul’s old number and doing things that are impressing teammates as well.
“He came in with a bang,” safety Deon Bush said. “Everybody was surprised with how fast he’s catching on and learning. He has a lot of heart right now. He’s pushing hard.”
Figueroa, who is working primarily at strong-side linebacker, isn’t allowed to speak with reporters per UM’s policy on freshmen. But Bush said Figueroa’s personality is meshing well with teammates.
• UM did not release a new depth chart following its first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday, but it’s safe to say whoever failed to perform to the level expected of them brought their A-games Tuesday.
Golden called Tuesday’s practice, “the best since I’ve been a Miami Hurricane coach.”
Why so good? According to Golden, the team’s best players didn’t play well Saturday and a lot of them came out with “pride because they didn’t live up to their own expectations or they felt a little heat from somebody.”
Despite acknowledging that a leg injury to Dyron Dye on Saturday is significant, Golden wasn’t ready to release any more news on the fifth-year senior defensive end on Tuesday “until I hear from the medical people.”
• While Dye’s injury appears to be serious, Golden said every other player dinged up on Saturday was back at practice Tuesday. One player who isn’t practicing but showing positive signs coming off an injury is sophomore receiver Malcolm Lewis.
“I don’t know if you were at the scrimmage the other day, but he was out pregame running routes, which I didn’t OK and was surprised as anybody to see it,” Golden said. “But if he’s out there it’s because the trainers said it was OK for him to do it. I was just shocked to go out there and see him coming out of a break.
“That’s amazing. That is an amazing feat, really a medical miracle that he’s able to do that. We’ll be careful with him until June, keep his weight down and then condition him on the bike and get him stronger. We’re really excited for him to have a full recovery.”
• With the number of scholarship running backs a bit low, Golden said the focus this spring has been to get sophomore Duke Johnson to learn to carry the load "and teaching him to be a 20-carry guy" while also being careful with his reps.