Walter Easley during his WVU days.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Walter Easley, a standout football player for Stonewall Jackson High in Charleston, West Virginia University and the San Francisco 49ers, died on Thursday at the age of 55.Easley had been in declining health for years because of kidney problems. He received a new kidney in 2005."Walt had a lot of kidney problems," said Don Nehlen, one of Easley's former coaches at WVU. "We had more than one fundraiser for him."Easley was a Parade All-America pick after helping guide the undefeated 1974 team at Stonewall Jackson. He played for coach Bill Jarrett at SJHS and was a three-sport star, also excelling in basketball and track. He turned down Ohio State, among others, to play football for the home-state Mountaineers."I was recruited from the ninth grade on," Easley told the Gazette in a 2005 interview. "I was a Parade All-American as a senior and getting lots of national attention. I had [Ohio State's] Woody Hayes in my house at Orchard Manor, as well as [Nebraska's] Tom Osborne, [Arizona State's] Frank Kush and [Alabama's] Bear Bryant."At WVU, Easley switched from fullback to linebacker, then back to fullback in his playing years of 1976-80."He scored the very first touchdown at new Mountaineer Field," Nehlen said Thursday. "He helped lay the foundation for the [WVU] program we have now."Easley went to WVU to play for Bobby Bowden, who left within a month of the player's arrival. He then played for Frank Cignetti before Nehlen came on board.
"Walt was a really good guy," Nehlen said. "I probably stayed in contact with him more than any of my former players."Easley went on to play for the Chicago Blitz and Pittsburgh Maulers in the USFL.However, it was his play with the 49ers that made a lasting mark. He earned a Super Bowl ring playing for coach Bill Walsh in a win over the Bengals after the 1981 season. That victory began the 49ers dynasty.Easley discovered his kidney function had declined in 1991, but didn't begin dialysis treatment until 1999."He battled this for a long time," Nehlen said. "It just makes me sick. We lost a great Mountaineer, that's for sure."Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.