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But the mental maintenance was as tough as the physical.
“That’s a job in itself, especially for the young guys,” said Figueroa. “I hate to sound like ‘that vet guy,’ but they’re used to that instant gratification. It’s like stopping a race horse from running; it’s difficult to try to pull a guy out of the sport that they love and shut it down for the whole season. Your body’s ready to go, but your mind is like, ‘We’re not going anywhere.’ And it’s difficult for some people.
“Families sacrifice a lot in this sport, we give it our all and when it’s taken away, there’s like a heavy blow to people’s mentals. Staying together, bonding together, working out, going out to eat just before the pandemic, it really held us together.”
In 2019, the offensive line was supposed to be the team’s spine, but their scoliotic performances were a big part of the team’s arthritic 1-6 start. They gave up the most sacks in the league (58) and when the Week 12 bye rolled round, offensive line coach Bryan Chiu was shown the door. Former Lion Kelly Bates took over, and the team saw immediate improvement, giving up just 15 sacks over the final eight games, a stretch that saw a three-game win streak. It ended when quarterback Mike Reilly broke his wrist in the first quarter against Edmonton, as B.C. closed out the year with three straight losses.
“I got eight games in with these guys at the end of that season. I came into that room where they hadn’t had the success they obviously all planned on and had worked towards, and things hadn’t worked out the way they wanted. Nobody was happy. And they could have easily shut down,” said Bates. “But they were an eager group with a lot of pride, a lot of professionalism. And Joel was one of those leaders in that group that would not allow anybody to settle for what was happening. So any success that we had in the end of that season, can be directly attributed to him, his leadership skills and how he holds his fellow teammates accountable.
“Having him back, knowing his work ethic and knowing how badly he wants to win, how many times he’s been to the big game and not been able to hoist that Cup … it just makes us that much better as a group.”