MADISON - Sixty-seven players on Wisconsin’s fall camp roster are redshirt sophomores or younger, including an eye-popping 45 players that are in their freshman year of eligibility.
Tindal has been a steady presence working at cornerback with the second-team defense, opening up a possibly of him playing in third-down situations, while Figaro has shined working at safety with the starting defense.
“The older guys are teaching me everything I need to do,” said Figaro. “(I’ve learned to) just play hard, be aggressive and do the little things right. I was always a humble guy, always a hard-working person. I always worked hard for everything.”
One of first five freshmen to shed their black stripe and earn their motion W, Figaro has impressed coaches with his intuitiveness, quickness and ability to read keys. In Wisconsin’s first scrimmage, Figaro jumped an out route for an interception off classmate D.J. Gillins that he returned for a touchdown.
Finishing his high school career with 117 tackles, nine sacks, seven interceptions and 13 pass breakups, Figaro – listed at 6-foot, 179 pounds - has adapted well to Wisconsin partly because he was a member of three Massachusetts Division 1A state championship teams at Everett (MA) High.
“Our head coach was the best head coach in Massachusetts,” said Figaro. “He was always pushing us every day and always working hard. We had a fast-paced offense, so everything was always fast.”
Tindal (5-11, 174) came in with a similar high school pedigree – finishing his career at Boyd Anderson HS in Fort Lauderdale, FL, with 150 tackles, 10 interceptions and 13 pass breakups- but didn’t gloss over the fact that his first college football camp hasn’t been a picnic.
“This camp is about the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” said Tindal. “Now it’s not just me that’s good on the field, it’s everybody. I’m playing against a lot of great talent from other states. The adjustment to be accountable for our own actions is big.”
To make it through, the duo have banded together with other classmates and position players to go over film study and hold each other accountable. Figaro and Tindal both turned down multiple BCS offers to come to Wisconsin (Figaro picked UW over Michigan State, Syracuse, Vanderbilt and others, while Tindal switched his commitment from Indiana) after falling in love with the school on official visits.
“This place is amazing,” stated Figaro, looking around at Camp Randall.
According to Tindal, the young group wants to be known as game changers, always hustling to the ball carrier and trying to force turnovers.
“(Turnovers) could change games,” said Tindal. “It’s about working hard. Once I started doing that, I felt I adjusted well.”
“I don’t want to make mistakes but it happens,” added Figaro. “I just want to be a better player, more focused and pay attention to the little things by following the leaders.”
The secondary was already expected to be one of the strengths of the roster entering the fall, especially with the Badgers having to remake much of the defense’s front seven. The Badgers return cornerbacks Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton and safety Michael Caputo, whose versatility, aggressiveness and instinct have rubbed off on Figaro.
“That’s a player,” said Figaro. “I haven’t seen a player like him before. You have to try to feed off his energy. I can try to play my own game, but I can learn a lot from him because he’s been here the longest. He knows what he’s doing and the right things to do.”
While Figaro leaned on Caputo, Tindal was taught by junior Devin Gaulden. Assigned as Tindal’s big brother, Gaulden – healthy for the first time in his collegiate career – is putting together a solid camp and will likely open the season as Wisconsin’s number three cornerback.
“He really taught me everything I needed to know,” said Tindal. “I am glad Coach Andersen put Devin as my big brother because he didn’t show any animosity toward me. He just took me under his wing and showed me what I needed to do to work hard, lead by example and not giving up.”
Hampered by a lack of depth in the secondary a year ago, Wisconsin was caught in a bind in certain coverage packages late in the season when trying to slow teams with standout wide receiving groups.
Targeting the secondary in the 2014 recruiting class, the goal was to rebuild depth among the defensive backs to put multiple coverage cornerbacks on the field in certain packages. With the season fast approaching, Wisconsin appears to have taken steps toward that goal, thanks to Figaro and Tindal.
“The goal as a group is to get everybody ready,” said Tindal. “You never know when your name will be called. In the game of football, people do get hurt. Anybody could go down, so you have to be ready.”