Tag Archives: cleveland thunderbolts

Fears, Willie

jo93 fearsCards: Wild Card WLAF 1992, Jogo 1995
Acquired: TTM 2014, C/o Home
Sent: 1/7       Received: 1/16    (9 days)

Willie Fears took a strange,winding, inspiring route, to his dreams of being a professional football player and coach. Undrafted out of Northwestern Louisiana St in 1985, Willie played 5 games for the Ottawa Rough Riders in the CFL.  Invited to the Miami Dolphins minicamp, he showed up admittedly out of shape and had to put his career on hold.  He became a corrections officer at the Arkansas State Maximum Security Prison, but along came the NFL Players Strike in 1987. At 6’4″, 280, Fears had the frame to still play, and probably had the greatest vacation time ever from work, spending 3 weeks as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals. Afterwards he went back to the CFL, playing for both Ottawa and Toronto in 1988 and 1989, before returning again to the NFL in 1990 as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.

Willie was then drafted by the WLAF San Antonio Riders in 1992. Willie’s technical precision, skillset, and size, allowed the team to shift him into any of the 3 places on the line, which was invaluable to the Riders 3-4 alignment. An experienced force on the line, he proved difficult for offensive linemen to handle, and helped the Riders be one of the staunchest defenses in the league.  After the league went on hiatus, Willie begun a career playing in the Arena Football League. He’d sign with the Cleveland Thunderbolts and played for them through the 1993 season, before hopping back into the CFL with the Sacramento Gold Miners. In 1994 the Gold Miners moved to San Antonio and became the Texans. He’d join them there back in his old stomping grounds. Afterwards, Fears joined the AFL again, playing in 1996 for the Tampa Bay Storm, and then in 1997 for the Nashville Katz.

wcwlaf92 fearsHe then continued his dream by becoming a football coach.  In the ArenaFootball2 league, he’d coach with the Arkansas Twisters for 3 seasons, before joining Jay Gruden on the Predators to coach the linemen. Ironically, later Pat O’Hara, joined the staff replacing Gruden as head coach. Pat was a member of the Ohio Glory and probably felt Willie breathing down his neck more than once during the Riders 17-0 stomping of the Glory back in 1992. Fears remained with the Predators through 2011. Currently he lives in Arkansas. My first success from the Meiselman 2014 list, I had been looking for Willie for quite sometime, and had been unable to locate him since his stint ended with the Predators. He was kind enough to not only sign the Wild Card WLAF 1992 card I enclosed, but like Billy Hess also enclosed one of his own from the Jogo 1995 set. Unfortunately both of the autographs were smudged as he signed with an overhead Vis-A-Vis instead of a Sharpie. The Riders card was smudged beyond recognition, so I resent it back out with a team photo of him and the other linemen for Willie to keep. He sent it back in about 2 weeks signed with the marker I gave him.

AFL    Tac  46     Sac 9    FF 2    Int  0   Yds   0   Avg  -.-   Td 0   Lg -.-
WLAF  Tac   N/a    Sac   2   FF  0    Int 0   Yds 0   Avg -.-   Td 0  Lg -.-
NFL  2     Tac  N/a    Sac 0   FF 0   Int  0  Yds 0   Avg -.-   Td 0  Lg -.-
CFL  N/a

 

Wilkerson, Eric (2)

Cards: ProSet WLAF 1991 TD leader, ProSet WLAF 1991 Rushing leader, ProSet 1991 WLAF, Ultimate WLAF 1992, Ultimate WLAF 1992 LL, Wild Card WLAF 1992.
Acquired: TTM 2012, C/o Kent State Alumni Association*
Sent:  6/16    Received: 7/28  (34 days)
See Also: Eric Wilkerson
* Donation requested

The paid side of SportsCollectors.net has been really good to me, and I’ve been able to unearth some very nice gems recently out of there recently. Case in point: Eric Wilkerson. I had been looking for Eric for quite a while. After hearing he had been shot, I hadn’t been able to find anymore information on him, but combing the archives of SC I found a success for the elusive runningback by writing to him care of Kent State’s Alumni Association. Since I had reached a desperate level on him, and he is one of those players with a bunch of cards, I decided to give it a shot and throw in a donation, since I felt so guilty about sending so many cards. While reconciling my bank account statements, I noticed that he cashed the check out a few days earlier, and then crossed my fingers on the return.  I would not be disappointed as he signed all 6 cards, which represents the single highest haul from a player since probably – Stan Gelbaugh? With Eric’s autographs on his 3 ProSet WLAF 1991 cards, it officially puts me over the halfway mark on the set (76/150).  Among the cards is the really slick touchdown league leader card, that he split with Orlando Thunder receiver Byron Williams. Nearly all of these cards are just really great heroic images of Eric in action, with probably his regular base card from the Ultimate 1992 WLAF set being my favorite. He signed each one, and wrote 91/92 on either one indicating the year.

During his time at Kent State, Eric ran his way into the record books rushing for 3,380 yards from scrimmage, and crushing the Mid-American Conference’s combined yardage record with 5,974 all purpose yards. During his senior season he set a single season school record with 1,325 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Due to his diminutive size, and the small school he went to, Wilkerson went undrafted but signed with the Steelers in 1989, and the Lions in 1990.

The WLAF gave him a shot in 1991. He’d be the 8th runningback taken in the draft, by the New York New Jersey Knights, and lead the league in rushing in 1991 with 717 yards and 11 TDs.  While his 1992 season was not as successful, it was more about the Knights offense diversifying as much as anything else. Eric is unofficially the WLAF’s career leading rusher- since the league reorganized after the season and was not seen again until three years later in 1995.

 

Wilkerson, Eric

Card: ProSet 1991
Acquired: TTM 1992, C/o New York/ New Jersey Knights
See also: Eric Wilkerson (2)

Okay, unlike most fans, I don’t care if a player signs with a ball point pen. It’s not really a big deal and as far as I know it could be a part of that player’s style. I know it technically ‘ruins’ the card, but I am just happy to get the autograph.

The all time leading rusher at Kent State, (and MAC player of the year in 1987) Eric Wilkerson ran for 3,830 career yards (before the mark was broken in 1997). Wilkerson was a free agent signee by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1989. Unable to crack the starting lineup he was out of football for the next season when he was drafted by the New York/ New Jersey Knights of the WLAF. The Knights under Mouse Davis were a Run and Shoot offense, where you pass first and run second. It became evident by week 2 though that Wilkerson was going to handle the load for the team as he rushed for 121 yards on 11 carries against future World Bowl Champion, the London Monarchs. Wilkerson in fact went on to lead the WLAF in 1991 with 717 rushing yards, placing him on the Second-Team All World League. He tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with 11, and second in total yards (990). He also was third in the league in rushing average, and had 3 touchdowns in one game against Orlando. His 4 touchdowns receiving topped the team as well.

His Sophomore season would not be as spectacular as Reggie Slack emerged as a force at quarterback for the team. Wilkerson still finished 8th in the league in rushing with a respectable 4.4 yards per carry but the WLAF reorganized shortly thereafter and Eric became the short lived original league’s career leading rusher. His 72 yard scamper in 1991 would also stand as the league record. He’d play one final season of football for his hometown Cleveland Thunderbolts in the Arena leagues as a WR/DB and then retire.

Since football, Wilkerson had his number retired at Kent State, and was inducted into the Varsity “K” Hall of Fame in 1995. He also was inducted into his local high school’s hall of fame at Central Catholic High.  In 2007, Wilkerson was stabbed in the arm and was in critical condition, however there is no follow up information after this. His current whereabouts are unknown, but I was able to reach him a few years later via the Kent State Alumni Association.

Games n/a  Att 208  Yds  1121   Avg 5.4  Td 10  Lg 74 |  Rec 37  Yds 414  Avg 11.2  Td 6  Lg 31