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Toughness runs in family

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By Brad Stephens

Carey Figg can remember the toughest days of playing football for coach Howard Schnellenberger’s Louisville teams.

“There would be times where we’d go through a three-hour, full-contact practice,” Figg said. “And if (Schnellenberger) wasn’t happy with it, he’d whistle with his fingers and we’d line up and start practice all over again.”

But it was that instilled toughness that Figg said helped carry his Cardinals to a 10-1-1 season in 1990 that included a 34-7 Fiesta Bowl beat down of Alabama.

That toughness has also carried over from Figg, South Oldham’s offensive line coach, to his son, Chris Figg, a senior lineman at South.

Carey has coached Chris in football throughout his adolescence, from youth league to high school. Chris said once he tried football, the sport came naturally.

“Honestly,” Chris said, “when I first came out for full-contact football, I still remember we were at La Grange, me and my dad, at an intersection and I was scared.

“Me and him were talking and I asked him if I could quit if I didn’t like it. But after that first time just hitting someone, it just felt so natural to me that I never wanted to stop.”

Carey said memories of that conversation made him recall a talk he once had with his U of L teammates.

“Because of the stuff we went through at U of L, I said if I ever have kids I’ll never let them play football,” Carey said. “Then (Chris) wanted to do it and I never discouraged him from it.”

Save for a brief period at fullback, Chris spent most of his early career on the line. Then, when he got to South, coaches moved him to center – the same position his father played at U of L from 1987-91. Chris has started at center for much of his career as a Dragon.

Center is one of the toughest positions on the football field, as the player must direct the rest of the line on blocking assignments, snap the ball correctly and then take care of his blocking responsibility.

But when Chris needs advice on the position, he has a resource few other players enjoy – living under the same roof as a person who successfully played the position at a big-time college level.

Carey was an all-state honorable mention lineman at Nelson County in 1987 and walked onto to the Cardinal football team.

Figg found his way onto the field within two years, playing at guard. He moved to center for his final two seasons.

His junior year ended with the Fiesta Bowl win, which marked U of L’s first win in a New Year’s Day bowl game.

“Sometimes I’d go back, watch my dad’s Fiesta Bowl film and try to get something from it,” Chris said. “If I ever needed advice on what to do or what steps to take, I’d always go to him for it.”

Playing football for Schnellenberger, who also coached Miami to the 1983 national championship, prepared Figg for his career with the Kentucky State Police, he said.

“Our (police) academy was very demanding,” Carey said. “We had guys that were Marines, guys that were Army, all walks of the military. I don’t think they were prepared for it. But with the toughness we had to learn in college, it made me prepared for anything.”

Carey found time out of his KSP schedule to coach Chris when he played youth football. His experience working with youngsters has made Carey a better high school coach, South head coach Jamie Reed said.

“You have a coach that played at the highest levels and understands the demands of what’s going on,” Reed said, “and you also have a guy that was able to coach youth football and create a demeanor that’s suitable for youth kids. And sometimes it’s hard to match those two things.

“He knows what he’s talking about with X’s and O’s and he knows how to relate to the kids without being overbearing.”

Carey’s football experiences have rubbed off on Chris, who Reed said was one of South’s most reliable leaders.

“Chris has been a guy that actions speak louder than words,” Reed said. “He’s not gonna be the most vocal guy on Friday nights or during the week but he gives his all on every play, and we’re really excited about what Chris brings to the table.”

Chris, Carey and the rest of the Dragons will be back in action at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Anderson County.

Chris said he hopes to go play college football after this season. He also hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps by pursuing a post-college career in criminology.

Meanwhile Carey said he’ll continue coaching with the Dragons after his son leaves, but that he’ll miss all the time they’ve spent together during Chris’ football career.

“We spend a lot of time together, probably a whole lot more than a lot of people,” Carey said. “It’s been a positive experience, I’ve really enjoyed it, and I’ll miss it when he’s gone."

Email us about this story at sports@oldhamera.com