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Two-sport star blossoms at Framingham State

Tyrone Figueroa easily adapted to a new role as slot receiver for Framingham State this year. His basketball coach, Paul Wholey, describes him as “a coach’s dream.’’ Tyrone Figueroa easily adapted to a new role as slot receiver for Framingham State this year. His basketball coach, Paul Wholey, describes him as “a coach’s dream.’’ (Dominic Chavez/Globe Staff)
By Lenny Megliola
Globe Correspondent / December 18, 2011
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For Tyrone Figueroa, the road from rough-edged East Boston to the calm of the suburban school on the hill, Framingham State University, was not paved with gold.

His quest to find a campus that fits has been loaded with disappointment. The 21-year-old Revere resident blames most of his troubles on himself.

After a stellar football and basketball career at East Boston High, in which he was a Globe Scholar-Athlete honoree as a senior in 2007, he turned down a number of schools because he was dead-set on going to the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“But at the last second, I decided not to go,’’ said Figueroa.

He wanted to be closer to home.

He enrolled at Salem State but struggled in the classroom; athletics were out. He raised his grades, but the following season, in 2009, he was cut from the basketball team, though he had helped Eastie win back-to-back city titles.

He pursued a transfer and considered Curry and Fitchburg State, along with Framingham.

“We recruited him pretty heavily,’’ said Framingham State football coach Tom Kelley. Last season, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Figueroa backed up star back Melikke Van Alstyne. “This year, we needed to get him more involved,’’ said Kelley. “We put him at slot receiver.’’

Figueroa had no trouble adapting to the new position, hauling in 30 receptions and two touchdowns in the Rams’ run to the Bogan Division title in the New England Football Conference.

“He’s a great athlete,’’ said Kelley.

FSU basketball coach Paul Wholey took notice.

“I’d seen him play in the gym [last year] against basketball players,’’ said Wholey. “And I was searching for players.’’

After a grueling season on the gridiron, Figueroa decided not to play hoops. “He got banged up in football,’’ said Wholey. But when some of his players became academically ineligible, Wholey was down to eight.

Figueroa joined the team in the second semester. He hadn’t done much for a month. “I was really out of shape,’’ he said. “I’d put on a lot of weight. I got back in shape. I just wanted to help the team.’’

This season, he has. He’s averaging 14 points and a team-leading 6.2 rebounds per game - all this at 5-10.

“He’s a special individual,’’ said Wholey. “You don’t run into someone like him often, and I’ve been coaching for over 30 years.’’

The football season extended into mid-November with the Rams advancing to the conference championship game. Figueroa went from shoulder pads to sneakers in a heartbeat.

“Last year he had to play himself into shape,’’ said Wholey. This time, the day after the last football game, on Nov. 13, Figueroa was at basketball practice. Two days later, he played in the season opener against Newbury College.

“I could barely get up the floor,’’ said Figueroa. “I fouled out.’’

Wholey wasn’t disappointed. “Ninety-five percent of the players would have taken a week to 10 days to get in shape. He had football legs. But each game he got better.’’

In an 86-85 overtime win over Colby-Sawyer, Figueroa hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime. His reverse layup with six seconds left won it, finishing off a 26-point, 13-rebound effort. He has averaged 17 points and 9.7 rebounds in the Rams’ past three games. FSU, in semester break, is 6-7.

Wholey, who coached high school ball at Marshfield, Pembroke, and Norwell and was a college assistant at Stonehill and Bridgewater State, doesn’t hesitate to have Figueroa defend bigger players.

“He can cover someone 6-5 down low,’’ said the coach. “He’ll cover the best shooter. At the other end, he creates a [matchup] problem. He has a tremendous first step and he’s strong. He knows how to use his body. He’s like a running back that stays close to the ground.’’

Although his stats are eye-catching, Figueroa relishes the grunt work. “I have a nose for the ball,’’ he said. “If I see a loose ball, I’m diving for it. Because of my height, people don’t think I can get rebounds. It’s a mission with me to come down with it.’’

Wholey said Figueroa preferred coming off the bench. “But I told him he needed to be on the floor. He said ‘whatever.’ ’’ He has started the last three games.

Figueroa’s parents are separated. He lives in Revere with his sister, Melissa Malave, 25, who has three children.

“My mother, Madelin, moved to New Hampshire with my younger brother,’’ said Figueroa. “My mom taught me to be determined. Everything I do is for her. She raised four kids on her own.’’

Figueroa has two years of eligibility left after this season. He hopes Framingham State is his last stop. He’s feeling more at home on the hill. During the school year, he lives on campus. “It’s helped me become more independent.’’ His roommate is Mario Ramos, whom he knew at East Boston High.

Figueroa reflects on his journey. “It’s been tough,’’ he said.

But it’s been tougher for his mother. “A lot of things I’ve gone through and conquered are because of her.’’

If he didn’t know much about Framingham State a couple of years ago, he now describes it this way: “Right place at the right time.’’

That’s sweet music to a couple of coaches.

Lenny Megliola can be reached at lennymegs@aol.com.

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