MADISON, Wis. — To understand how Lubern Figaro elevated himself from just another freshman in the mix for playing time to a starting free safety at Wisconsin in all of two weeks, it takes only these five words found recently on his Twitter feed: "Film study is a must."
Most days, Figaro buries himself in his team-issued iPad for close to two hours, studying the Badgers’ various plays and formations. And this week, with the team’s most significant season opener in years fast approaching, Figaro has upped the ante even further.
"I’m not going to lie," he said after Wednesday’s practice. "Yesterday, I was watching film for over three hours of LSU. I started at 7 at night until like 10:30."
And what, exactly, was he examining?
"Formation-wise, where they love to throw the ball, what type of routes they run, everything like that," he said. "I’m just soaking it all up."
Soaking up his opportunities is one reason Figaro has been competing with the first-team defense the past week opposite safety Michael Caputo. Having natural talent and instincts certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
Figaro, a 6-foot, 179-pounder from Everett, Mass., finished his high school career with 117 tackles, nine sacks, seven interceptions and 13 pass breakups despite never having played football until his freshman year. He also helped guide his team to three state championship wins. When he arrived at Wisconsin in June, his goal, he said, was to find a way to see the field as a freshman. So, he constantly sought feedback from the team’s veteran players, asking for input on how to become a better player.
Badgers head coach Gary Andersen credited safeties coach Bill Busch for developing players but also cited Figaro’s ability to quickly understand the team’s defensive concepts.
"He’s a very talented athlete, No. 1," Andersen said. "The thing that’s the biggest question when you go back there and play at the safety position is the mental part of it. There’s a lot that goes on back there. He’s able to communicate. He’s able to grasp the defense."
Officially, Figaro’s "Big Brother" in Andersen’s mentorship program was redshirt freshman Joe Ferguson. But Figaro is quick to point out that other safeties such as Peniel Jean, Leo Musso and Michael Caputo are really all of his big brothers.
"I like learning from the older guys and everything like that," Figaro said. "Trying to do the little things right. Just learn from the older guys, teaching me the right things to do."
In just a few short weeks of fall camp, he already has stood out to teammates.
"Lubern is definitely impressive," Badgers linebacker Derek Landisch said. "I know from his background getting to know him a little bit, I know he started playing football late, kind of just like Dezmen Southward. He’s definitely a smart guy. To come in here and pick up a college defense like that, along with his athleticism, he’s going to be a great player in the future."
But the future, it appears, is now for Figaro, who overtook Leo Musso last week while Musso was recovering from a hamstring injury. During the team’s open scrimmage on Aug. 10, Figaro perfectly read a throw into the flat by quarterback D.J. Gillins and intercepted it for a touchdown.
"He’s a great player," Badgers cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. "He’s fast. He can cover grass. Cover all over the field. He can come down, he can tackle. For him to be that young and be able to make plays like that, that’s something that you rarely see."
Shelton, now a sophomore, is one of the rare talents to have come into Wisconsin and started as a true freshman. He noted Figaro’s ability to pick up tendencies from film had helped to accelerate his development.
"I look back at last year, just coming in, you don’t know how to watch film," Shelton said. "But he has people in front of him that are definitely teaching him. Like Caputo and Musso. Those types of players have definitely led the way for him. He’s learning at a faster rate than me, and that’s pretty exciting to see."
Figaro noted his biggest challenge was adjusting to the speed of college football — a common refrain heard from freshmen across the country. But knowing the right positions to be in before plays happen has helped him make up some of that ground. Talking football with the veterans — and even freshmen roommates Derrick Tindal and George Rushing — helps as well.
Now, he’s ready to make an impact on game day. On Aug. 18, Figaro tweeted "12 more days till LSU." He said he’s been counting down to game time "every day." In between now and then, however, there is plenty more game film to study to further hone his craft.