CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Those who knew Walter Easley on the football field knew him as a hard hitter who, as a West Virginia University fullback, scored the first touchdown at new Mountaineer Field.
Those who knew him when the pads came off knew him as a gentle person who enjoyed helping the children of Charleston's West Side.
Easley, who played for Stonewall Jackson High School, WVU and the San Francisco 49ers during his football career, died Thursday at age 55.
A Parade All-American at Stonewall Jackson, Easley attended WVU, starting out at fullback, switching to linebacker, but returning to fullback when Don Nehlen took over the program in 1980.
"He was a natural fullback," Nehlen said Thursday. "He was a decent linebacker, but a very, very good fullback. My offense was I-formation. He was 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds and wasn't afraid to knock your socks off."
As a senior in 1980, Easley rushed for 833 yards and eight touchdowns, while blocking for fellow Charleston native Robert Alexander, who rushed for 1,064 yards and five touchdowns. Easley's four-yard score in the first quarter of the Mountaineers' 41-27 romp over Cincinnati on Sept. 6, 1980, was new Mountaineer Field's inaugural touchdown. That ground attack helped WVU to a 6-6 record that year, the Mountaineers' best since 1975.
Easley joined the Niners as a free agent in 1981 and played two seasons there. He was on San Francisco's first Super Bowl championship team, when the Niners beat the Bengals, 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac, Mich. He also played for the Pittsburgh Maulers and Chicago Blitz of the United States Football League.
"If you coached a pro football team and you played with a fullback, Walter Easley was going to make a dent in your lineup," Nehlen said.
Following his football career, he worked for Amtrak in Washington, D.C. for 12 years before moving back to Charleston. He began developing kidney problems, as cysts in his kidneys had caused end-stage renal disease. He underwent numerous surgeries and dialysis, and received a kidney transplant in 2005.
WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck, Easley's Mountaineer teammate for three seasons, was among the former WVU players to help raise money for the Walter Easley Kidney Foundation.
"He was a real gentleman away from the field," Luck said of Easley, "a gentle guy, and a great teammate. It was really easy for me and the other players helping him out to get on the phone and call other old teammates.
"He was very proud of Charleston," Luck added. "He was a great guy and really beloved by all the players."
That pride in Charleston showed when he helped coach Stonewall Jackson Middle School's football team, said former Stonewall Jackson and current George Washington High principal George Aulenbacher. Aulenbacher was at the middle school for 51/2 years, and said Easley was "Stonewall, through and through."
"He was a real inspiration for a lot of those kids and a great role model," Aulenbacher said. "He loved football and used it as a tool to be able to talk to kids. He talked to them about setting goals. It's a big loss for West Virginia."