Nottingham High physical education teacher Al Offredo, who also runs the clock at varsity soccer games, remembers having Wild Jeff Fileus in his ninth-grade gym class four years ago. Fileus was just learning English after moving here from Haiti in eighth grade, but he knew enough to ask one question perfectly clear.
“Every day he’d come in and say, ‘Coach, we play soccer today? We play soccer?’” Offredo recalled. “I said, ‘Jeff, we played three straight days just for you. Not everyone wants to play soccer every day.”
Except Wild Jeff, who is wild about soccer.
Thankfully for Northstars head coach Mike Braender, he’s not wild in any other ways.
“It was incredible,” Braender said. “His freshman year he sent me a form to come to my camp, it said ‘Wild Jeff.’ I said, ‘This is crazy I have a kid named Wild on the team.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s my name,’ but he is as not as wild as his wild name projects.”
Fileus laughs when the subject comes up, saying, “Sometimes people will think I’m like a wild man. But when you talk to me you’re gonna find out who I am.”
Just who is he? Actually, Fileus is an intense, hard-nosed player in the heat of battle, but a polite, gracious and thoughtful young man off the field.
And though he grew up with the name, he’s still not too sure how it came about it.
“It’s funny, when I first came here, when everybody saw my name they were laughing,” Fileus said. “I didn’t speak English, so I didn’t know the meaning of it and what wild meant. It’s a pretty cool name. Not everybody has it. I don’t know where my parents got it from, but they named me Wild Jeff, so. . .over (in Haiti) it was just Wild Jeff. No big deal.”
What is a big deal, is what Fileus means to the Northstars. He, along with goalie Pat Luckie, are the backbone of a Nottingham team that is looking for an improved season this year. Fileus is not really a stat guy, but as a central midfielder he is outstanding at controlling the ball and moving it forward, and his frenetic pace has him all over the field.
“I like him to do it all,” Braender said. “I like him to control that middle of the field as much as possible, but also push up and score some goals for us and help out in that category, which we kind of struggled with last year.”
Fileus has put in the time to be just that type of player.
“He’s a great kid, a hard worker,” Braender said. “Probably the hardest worker on the team. He was out there by himself every day this summer trying to perfect his craft and it really shows. He’s in the best shape on the field and the hardest worker for sure.”
During the Northstars 1-0 win over Trenton, in which Fileus drew a penalty kick when he was pushed from behind on a breakaway, Tornadoes’ coach Joe Fink had praise for his opponent.
“He’s a good player,” Fink said. “He plays hard. He played pretty smart today, and he’s a great kid on top of it.”
Fileus gained his soccer knowledge while growing up in Haiti, where the sport was as much a part of his life as breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“In Haiti, that’s the only sport we basically play,” he said. “I grew up playing soccer since I don’t know what age. I just played after school and stuff. I never played for a travel team or a school team, I just played for fun. And it was great because I could play any time. Every time we came home from school, I didn’t study and stuff, I went right to soccer.”
Upon arriving in America, however (he attended Crockett Middle School in eighth grade), Fileus quickly discovered he had to study if he wanted to play soccer.
“I came here, and I gotta follow my dream now, make it come true,” he said. “This country has helped me a lot. It’s let me play for my high school, that’s the best thing I have. When I saw I could play for my school, I came and worked hard every day in practice, worked hard in class. I have to keep my head up so the dream comes true.”
Fileus is also a wrestler, but considers soccer his main sport and he hopes to play in college. He was on JV as a freshman and played sparingly as a sophomore, but became an integral part of the team last year.
“He’s been a two-year captain,” Braender noted. “His skill has improved, and he’s been pushing himself to make players around him better as well. It’s not all about him. He’s a huge team guy, he’ll give up the ball so someone else can score and the team wins. You can’t ask much more as a player. He’s really been a key asset the last two years and his captaincy shows he earned it. He wasn’t given the captaincy because it’s his senior year. He earned it.”
It is a role he takes seriously when with his teammates.
“When I’m at practice I push them,” Fileus said. “I tell them keep your head up in practice, because that’s where you learn for the game. You just gotta keep working hard to improve yourself. Because the game is going to be different — different temperature, different pressure.”
What makes Fileus’ leadership so impressive is that he had to overcome a language barrier to get other players to follow him. It took him close to two years to start to truly understand English, which he now speaks very well.
“I just came here and followed the rules in class,” he said. “I wanted to be a good classmate and pay attention. If I didn’t pay attention in class I would never have learned English so fast.”
He has also learned his role as a player, which is one of the most important roles on the field.
“Every time I get the ball on my feet I move as fast as I can,” he said. “You have to get it and move it forward, you can’t go back. They’re moving hard on you. If you lose the ball in the midfield you put the defense in trouble.”
Braender pointed out, “He’s definitely dangerous every time he gets the ball. He just loves the game. He pushes himself every single day to be better, and it shows.”
His desire to play started showing during 9th-grade gym class.
“I was so excited to start playing soccer,” Fileus said of why he begged Offredo to play each day. “I never played for a team before. My freshman year I was so excited to play soccer in gym. We came from a long way, I wanted to play.”
And play, he does. At a very high level that puts opponents on edge.
“That’s why he’s Wild Jeff,” Fink said with a grin.
It’s nice to see at least somebody knows why.