Where Are You Now? Fuzzy Filliez
Editors Note: Where Have You Gone is a ten-week series featuring notable local athletes of yesteryear. We take a look back at their playing days, as well as a glimpse of where they landed after their playing days ended.
If you were a young kid growing up in New Martinsville in the late 1960’s, early 70’s and liked sports you probably idolized a bushy red-headed three sport star. John ‘Fuzzy’ Filliez a first team All-State selection in baseball, basketball, and football was looked up to by young kids, and feared by the opposition on the sports field, and in the gymnasium. The 1973 Magnolia High School graduate was well known in the Ohio Valley and the entire state of West Virginia.
In football Filliez had the best hands around, and could catch anything All-State Quarterback Brian Book would throw his way. Offensively he ended his football career at Magnolia High School with 81 catches for 1,434 yards and 16 touchdowns. On the defensive side of the ball, the gifted star was a ball-hawking defensive back and led the valley in interceptions.
His senior year Magnolia went 10-2 with a state Class AA runnerup finish to Ravenswood. In basketball he led the Blue Eagles to the state tournament where they finished “AA” runnerup to Gary High School.
He later teamed with quarterback Book to lead the W. Va. All-Stars to a victory over Ohio in the annual OVAC All-Star game at Wheeling Island.
On the baseball field Fuzzy was a sweet swinging left handed .352 batter, and was known for his ability to make spectacular grabs from his center-field position.
He was a smooth player on the hardwood as well averaging 19 points per game, hitting long range jumpers (No 3-point line back then), or taking the ball to basket with ease. Defensively he recorded team high steals with his cat-like prowess all over the court.
Fuzzy earned plenty of awards while playing at Magnolia High School. He was the first OVAC athlete to earn All-W.Va. first team honors in football, basketball, and baseball, while being selected first team All-OVAC in all three sports as well. He was inducted into the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference (high school) Hall of Fame in 2005.
Coming out of high school, he had offers for football from notables Marshall, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Pitt, and Penn State. The 5-11, 175-pounder signed early with WVU, but opted out for Marshall.
The former Magnolia standout went to a Kansas City Royals tryout camp for baseball and had some inquiries as to perhaps pursuing a baseball career.
Filliez said, “I thought I would be able to maybe do that at Marshall as well, but as I soon found out college football is a little bit different than high school football. They pretty much wanted you working all the time on your football. But yeah, I did consider trying baseball. Actually, to be quite honest for a number of years baseball was my favorite sport. I was blessed to have some skills in football that were more noticeable than the fact that I could not hit a curveball. So, I pursued my football career.”
So, the red-headed flash moved on to a record setting career with the Marshall Thundering Herd in Huntington, WV. While at Marshall Fuzzy was joined by teammates from Magnolia, David and Bill Forbes, Harold Wetzel, and Bob Wilt. Many of Fuzzy’s Magnolia teammates went on to play college football.
He would eventually set school records for the Thundering Herd in every major receiving category from 1973-1976. After it was all said and done, Filliez hauled in 168 catches for 1,954 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was selected as the WV state Amateur Athlete of the Year in 1976.
After leading Marshall in receiving for four straight years, Fuzzy would hang up his cleats in Huntington as not only the school’s all-time leading receiver, but the 10th ranked all-time receiver (tied with Randy Moss) in NCAA history. He was inducted into the Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame in 1986, and cemented himself in the hearts of Marshall football fans forever. Automobile bumper stickers supporting the police showed up at Herd games, where they had a different meaning. They read: “I Love the Fuzz.” The team co-captain was a two-time All-American honorable mention choice and a first team National Independent All-Star honoree.
Perhaps the most impressive statistic of his career, was catching a pass in 42 straight games setting a then NCAA record. He broke the mark set by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers from Nebraska.
When asked about getting recruited by Marshall, Fuzzy said, two names; Red Dawson and Andy Namath. “Namath was my prime recruiter and in fact I’d already signed a letter of intent with West Virginia University. Upon signing that letter of intent, they finally disclosed that they would prefer me to play safety. I had no problem with that, but I thought that I was a better receiver than I was a defensive back. I got the chance to talk to Coach Dawson at homecoming my last year at Magnolia and we had a nice chat, about an hour or so. He told me that he asked Coach Namath if he could have a crack at this one?”
“He did a good job. What pretty much sealed the deal for me was when Coach Dawson took me out on I-70 above the plane crash site. You could still see where the foliage was burning and the outline of that terrible night,” said Filliez.
“I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I was a sophomore in high school when the crash happened, but I just looked at him and basically said, when and where do I sign? That’s about the way that went down.”
West Virginia released Fuzzy from the letter of intent. “It was not a binding letter of intent. I signed a letter of intent stating that I would sign with them on signing day. However, as things came about like I said, I found some stuff out about the position switch that they wanted to make with me, and I wanted to play receiver. Virginia Tech was actually still recruiting me at the time as well, but as I mentioned, Coach Dawson knew exactly what to say and knew exactly what to show me because that’s why I ended up there.”
Being an All-American receiver and perhaps the best receiver in Marshall football history, I asked him why he doesn’t talk about how special it is to be such a meaningful part of Marshall football history?
“Well, it’s truly a very humbling experience. I look back on my career at Marshall and I see so many things that I could’ve done to be a better ballplayer and a better teammate. I regret some of the decisions I made by not doing that. But I’ve always said, and recently after seeing the movie “We Are Marshall“; I realized in retrospect what a great honor it was just to be there with the members of the Young Thundering Herd, the Terry Gardners, the Charlie Henrys, Reggie Olivers, the Allen Meadows, the Jack Crabtrees, the Rick Methstroths, the Jim Millers. All those guys, so many of them that I can’t think of. Those guys in essence are the reason that the football program is where it’s at today. Period. They took literally nothing and won two games in a year where people thought that they would probably not score 50 points the whole year. That was just inspiring to me. That was one of the greatest honors that I had while playing at Marshall and I truly mean that. Those guys were special, they did a lot for the university, and all of them were helpful to me. I did come in as a freshman starter and they were all extremely helpful and it was a great privilege to play with all of them”.
You’ve been around a lot of talented football players in your life. Who was the most talented football player you’ve ever been around and why? “Oh, that’s a tough one. Well, one of the most impressive football players that I’ve ever been around was a guy that I played high school football with, by the name of Bill Forbes. Now, Bill for odd reasons, did not get a lot of playing time at Marshall University. I never saw a guy give 100 percent on every single solitary play like he did. Practice or game, he worked as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen. In fact, I wish I would’ve had his work ethic. He is an unbelievable devout Christian man who I have a great deal of respect for”. Filliez worked with Bill Forbes for around 12 years selling cars after leaving Marshall.
With name recognition alone, “Fuzzy” is one of the most recognizable names in the history of the Marshall football fan base.
Fuzzy was once asked how his nickname had come about, he said, “Okay, I’m going to tell you the true, fascinating story behind this. Everybody thinks it was because I had this real long red hair. Well, “Fuzzy” Filliez rang. It had a nice little ring to it you have to admit. So, I grew the hair out, it was nice and fridulous. The true story behind that is, my brother, my older brother was playing baseball in St. Mary’s, West Virginia. He graduated in 1965, so he was eight years older than I was. They had mispronounced our last name so badly they were calling him Feleezee and all kind of different names every time he came up to bat. Well on the bus on the way home, the guys were talking about this and somebody came up with the name “Fuzzy Filliez” and it stuck. So, from that time on he was stuck. As I got older, he let me start hanging around with him and I naturally became “little Fuzz“. I embellished the part by lettin’ the hair grow long and that made everybody think they call me “Fuzzy” because of my hair. The fact of the matter is that’s how that came about. That might not be as good a story as the flashy red hair, but that’s how it went down and if he hadn’t let me tag along with him, they still might’ve just called me John”.
Filliez has three nephews that won State Championships at Magnolia. Britt Hayes was on the 1989 Magnolia Baseball State Championship team, Steven Iams competed on the 2000 Basketball Championship team, and Steve Rogalski played on the 2010 Football Championship team.
Rogalski set receiving records with 3,646 receiving yards, 31 touchdowns, and 193 career catches. Steven went on to play for West Virginia Wesleyan as a receiver and had a nice career with the Bobcats. Rogalski also set track records at Magnolia and was a standout player on the basketball team.
Fuzzy and his wife Renee live in Chesapeake, Oh, not far from the Marshall University Campus, he retired in 2018. Filliez was one of seven siblings, three sisters, and three brothers. His two older brothers have passed. He has two biological daughters, three stepchildren, and seven grandchildren with number eight due in March.
When talking to Fuzzy in a phone conversation, he said, “I’m enjoying the grandkids and life”.
I asked him what advice he would have for young athletes wanting to play in college. He said, “I would tell them to follow their dreams and work on their game every day and develop a good work ethic”.
Fuzzy cherishes all the memories growing up in New Martinsville and all the good people he has met during his journey. He still visits his family members living here.
Most people around town and the Ohio Valley when asked if they remember Fuzzy Filliez, will say most definitely. He is a legend around here!