Chuck Filiaga has always been big.
He stood out among his classmates in school in American Samoa where he stayed through eighth grade. Filiaga has come a long way since then, especially geographically.
He left his home for southern California, then moved to Texas and now is verbally committed to play on the offensive line at Michigan this fall.
“When he was in the first grade, there was an assembly, a performance and the kids were singing,” Judy McCoy, Filiaga’s mother said. “Chuck was in the second line in the back, and the two old ladies in front of me, they were somebody’s grandmothers, and they were talking about him saying, ‘He must be slow. Look at him with that radiant smile.’
“They assumed because of his size he was special. I didn’t tell them.”
She laughed at the memory.
When Filiaga was 12 years old, he was 6-foot-3, 230 pounds.
“That was on the skinnier side,” McCoy said.
“Yeah, that was the skinny side,” Filiaga said, laughing, as they spoke together to The Detroit News.
He’s 6-7, 330 pounds now, a four-star lineman out of Aledo, Texas, who helped his team win a state title. He announced earlier this month at the U.S. Army All-American game, where he measured the largest hands and the second longest wing span of the group, he will be attending Michigan.
What a journey he has had.
American Samoa is in the middle of the South Pacific and is about five hours from Hawaii.
“There’s no place like it on earth,” McCoy said. “There’s something that comes out of the soil. It’s so slow there, molasses is fast.
“Fish, swim, pray, wake up, repeat.”
There are approximately 60,000 residents. It is remote and challenging to reach.
“It’s unique, that’s for sure,” she said. “Going to Hawaii doesn’t prepare you. It’s not as Americanized. The (Samoan) language is spoken, and the traditions and customs are very similar to how it was 1,000 years ago.
“Luckily for us, a lot of things that made the ancient Samoans great warriors and travelers make for success in today’s world when applied. Chuck is one blessed with all the physical attributes, and he has had success because of who he is. It’s quite an interesting journey. It was somewhat challenging, so many things are different. One of the things that has helped the Samoan culture and allowed it to survive to this day is resilience. We adapt well. We take new things and make them our own. We keep trucking.’”
Filiaga said he is happy being here and wouldn’t mind visiting American Samoa, but this is now home.
“I was kind of getting island fever,” he said.
“Rock fever,” his mother said.
To advance Filiaga’s football career, he had to move to the United States. Judy and Chuck initially settled in Vista Murrieta, Calif., before moving to Aledo, near Fort Worth, to be with her parents. And there he found football success.
“Texas has been really good to Chuck,” she said.
Filiaga has always been happy and is always smiling.
“I’ve been the big and nice guy,” he said. “It’s just me. I’m just naturally a happy guy. I’m always goofing off no matter what, even when we’re being serious.”
Nebraska and Oklahoma were among his final three choices, but Filiaga felt drawn to Michigan.
“My first visit, I fell in love with it,” Filiaga said, referring to the Wisconsin game weekend. “When I stepped on that field with the other recruits, I don’t know what it was, I just fell in love with the campus. And I love the coaching staff.”
What he also feels good about is Michigan’s future.
“It was about what (coach Jim) Harbaugh had built over there and what he is going to be building in the future with the great athletes he’s receiving soon,” Filiaga said. “Honestly, he’s going to create a lot of great athletes for Michigan.
“It’s something about Michigan I love, that I can’t get off the tip of my tongue. I think it’s about the future and what I can be to do to help the team win Big Ten championships and national championships.”
Filiaga spent a lot of time on his Michigan visit with tight end Devin Asiasi, who also is Samoan, and has become good friends with fellow freshmen commits Phillip Paea, Cesar Ruiz and Dylan McCaffrey.
Filiaga describes himself as very coachable. He’s the type, he said, who is told something, might take a few tries to get it right and then it’s “second nature.”
He plans to study business and marketing and will wear No. 66, which he has been wearing see Pee Wee football.
Filiaga could play left or right tackle and feels he could start this fall.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work and sacrifice this year,” he said. “Whatever the team needs I’m all in for it.”
Filiaga is also all in for Michigan winters, a far cry from anything he has experienced.
“I’ve been ready,” he said excitedly. “I just love the coat.”
“He thinks he does,” his mother said, laughing.
And so the journey continues.