James Wood's Filbert to play college football at Wagner

By ROBERT NIEDZWIECKI | The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — Learning to play a new position in football at the NCAA Division I level is a pretty daunting task.
Elijah Filbert has proven during his career at James Wood that he’s never been hesitant to do whatever it takes to achieve what he wants though.
Filbert signed to continue his education and athletic career at NCAA Division I Wagner College next year — where he’ll make the transition from a four-year high school defensive end to college outside linebacker — during a ceremony on Wednesday afternoon in the James Wood High School library.
Wednesday was the first day for the regular college football signing period.
Gilbert — a National Honor Society member who holds a 3.73 GPA — will receive an academic scholarship that covers about one-third of his tuition to Wagner, a member of the Northeast Conference that is located in the New York City borough of Staten Island.
Filbert officially told Wagner — the only school he said he seriously considered — on Feb. 1 that he would be playing for the Seahawks in the fall.
Filbert said the scholarship guarantees him a spot on the team, and he’ll have an opportunity to earn athletic scholarship money starting with the 2019-20 school year. Wagner went 4-7 overall and 2-4 in the NEC last year.
Ryan Morgan — who completed his first year as James Wood’s varsity head coach in 2017 — said the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Filbert (53 tackles, including 13 for loss this year) has definitely come a long way to put himself in the position that he is in now.
“He was a kid who realized he wanted to make this a goal early on,” said Morgan, who was the JV head coach when Filbert was a freshman and sophomore. “Even after his freshman season, I can remember him talking about how he was giving up certain foods, and making sure he was eating right, trying to add weight and gain strength, because [playing in college] was a goal.
“Frankly, I’ve never seen a freshman make those decisions. Those are decisions that usually 17-, 18-year-olds decide. But he got rid of eating sweets, drinking soda, stuff like that, and made sure he got in the gym. When he came in as a freshman, he was 150 pounds. Like a lot of freshman, he didn’t know a great deal about what he was doing on the field, but he worked at it. He was always hustling. Really that mind-set is what got him to this point.”
Filbert — who said he spends 10 hours a week in the weight room — was only benching 135 pounds when he arrived as a freshman but is now up to 300 pounds. He can put up 405 pounds in both the squat and dead lift.
Of course, all that strength is nothing without football skill.
Filbert became a starter for James Wood as a junior and made 33 tackles and three sacks. Most high school football players have their highlights posted on the game footage website Hudl, and Filbert’s performance as a junior was enough for Wagner recruiting coordinator Steve Ciocci to send an email last April inviting Filbert to the school’s Junior Day. Filbert was able to watch Wagner’s spring game during his visit.
After that, Filbert participated in a Wagner camp for college prospects during the summer of 2017.
“It was fun and competitive, and I just gave my best effort,” Filbert said. “I was just doing what I had to do to get on the team.”
Filbert made a third visit to Wagner on Sept. 30 to watch the Seahawks — led by third-year head coach Jason Houghtaling — beat Lehigh 37-20.
“Everytime you go up there, it feels like a nice, cozy place,” Filbert said. “You don’t even think you’re in New York City when you’re on campus. You feel like you’re at home. The coaching staff is really there for you, and the team has a great bond.
“It feels like where I’m supposed to be, and it feels like a good place to do well academically as well as athletically.”
Filbert said he was accepted into Wagner in December. He was notified of the academic scholarship in mid-January, and the coaching staff offered him a spot on the team the same day. Filbert is undecided on a major right now, but he plans on going into either sports medicine or criminology.
At Wagner’s camp, Filbert played as a defensive end. But the Wagner coaching staff told him they feel he’d be better suited to play linebacker in college, and the Seahawks want him to put on 20 more pounds by August.
“It shouldn’t be too difficult [to make the transition],” Filbert said. “It’s basically the same concepts. I’ve just got to learn a few things, and get used to it. During the spring, I’ll try to learn from [the James Wood] coaches about what to do at outside linebacker.”
Going from putting a hand on the ground as a defensive lineman to standing up as a linebacker will be different, but Morgan thinks Filbert can handle the transition well because of his intelligence and ability to process information.
“He’s athletic enough and can change direction well enough to where he can play outside linebacker without much of an issue,” Morgan said. “I think he’ll do well in college because he’ll take it seriously and won’t get distracted.”
Filbert said he appreciates the time he spent learning and playing football at James Wood.
“My coaches were always there for me, trying to make me better, trying to push me to do my best,” Filbert said. “That impact they’ve made on me over the last four years is definitely going to carry over to college, because they’ve made me a better player and a better person. I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity to play for them.”
Cisler signs with Alderson Broaddus
Also on Wednesday, James Wood senior running back/linebacker Mark Cisler signed a National Letter of Intent to play for NCAA Division II Alderson Broaddus University on a partial scholarship.
Alderson Broaddus is located in Philippi, W.Va., and competes in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference. The Battlers went 3-8 overall and 2-5 in the G-MAC last year.
Cisler — who carried the ball 71 times for 302 yards (4.3 average) and three touchdowns in 2017 — will be an H-back for the Battlers. On defense, Cisler had 66 tackles (six for loss).
Cisler has a 3.88 GPA and plans to major in exercise science.
Alderson Broaddus’ coaching staff includes running backs coach and tight ends coach Erik Bearer, a 2013 James Wood graduate. Bearer played for the Battlers from 2013-16 and just finished his first year as an assistant coach at his alma mater.
For a James Wood team that only had one graduate on a college roster in 2017, Morgan said it means a lot to have more players making that a goal.
“We’re trying to increase the level of competition within the program a little bit,” Morgan said. “I think this kind of helps them see the heights they can achieve if they really work at it.”
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