The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Thursday, March 28, 1996               TAG: 9603280507
SECTION: SPORTS                   PAGE: C1   EDITION: FINAL 
TYPE: Column 
SOURCE: Tom Robinson
DATELINE: CHESAPEAKE                         LENGTH: Medium:   75 lines


Turns out, all they had to do was ask.

William Fuller left Indian River High School in 1980 for great success as a college and pro football player, as a family man, as a community asset. Truly, Fuller is one of those role models that so many famous athletes don't want to be. Glad for it, too.

So is it strange that he'd never been invited back to mingle among the students at his alma mater? To give a little positive reinforcement, share a story or two from his special climb?

Maybe. Then again, maybe nobody thought of it. Why impose on him, you know? A guy like Fuller, he's got to be busy. And he is. Yet on his visits home through the years, Fuller often dropped by school unannounced to check on old coaches, old friends.

He loved those moments. But Fuller might have enjoyed Wednesday more. It was the night Indian River chose to honor its Group 6 state championship football team with a banquet in the school cafeteria.

It also was the night for which Indian River at last asked Fuller to return as honored guest and after-dinner speaker. And how about that? Fuller couldn't say `Yes' fast enough.

``I'll just talk about William Fuller, what I've accomplished, what it took to get there and offer those guys some encouragement,'' Fuller said before the banquet. ``Possibly tell them about some of the roadblocks and pitfalls to watch out for. But really, I'll try to keep the theme that the banquet is for them, that we're honoring and congratulating them, and how proud I am of them.''

Fuller never won a title in high school. Entering his 13th season in pro football, he's known two USFL championships, but nothing yet with the Houston Oilers or Philadelphia Eagles, for whom he just completed his second year as one of the league's finest defensive ends.

Chances are that title won't come, either, in the two years Fuller says are left in his NFL career. His three-year, $8 million contract is up after next season, and Fuller, 34, says if he hasn't had it then, he definitely won't play beyond 1997.

He loves the game, no question, but there are important things to get on with.

Fuller, whose father died last August after a long bout with illness, including diabetes, helps fund diabetes research with his own local golf tournament each summer. He, his wife and three daughters, now residents of Cherry Hill, N.J., are talking about settling in Cary, N.C., assuming a comfortable, low-key life.

Could be he'll coach high school, maintaining that camaraderie athletes miss so much, while being home for dinner every night. And it could be that, just as Indian River got around to requesting his presence, Fuller might get around to helping Indian River in the tangible way he always wanted.

``It's something that I've thought about for a long time,'' Fuller said. ``It's something I'd like to do. I know what they want their (football) program to be, and I know it's going to take the community being behind it.

``It's gonna take outside resources, funding. So I'm in a position where, yeah, I want to sit down and see where I can help.''

Fuller helped make Wednesday special just by being there. Funny, the things a state championship can make happen.

Last year, Indian River marked its football season with a little pizza party. This time around was a soiree for 250 guests, including Chesapeake's mayor, city council members and school superintendent.

And one large, famous alumnus, proud to be home. ILLUSTRATION: GARY C. KNAPP

William Fuller, Indian River class of '80, spots his photo in a

yearbook shown him by cheerleader Melisa Odom and her father Mark.

The book belongs to Melisa's step-mother, who graduated with


by CNB