Just one more year for Feliciano

Two decades is enough for Leon Feliciano. The 54-year-old Feliciano says next year will be his last after 20 years of unprecedented success as the Tomales High School varsity football coach.

"It is time," he says. "I set some goals and met them. It has been a special time at a special high school, but it is time to go."

Feliciano says the time is especially opportune because he has a very capable replacement already on his staff in Dominic Sacheli, a former Tomales player and math teacher at the school. "The most important thing is that the program continues in good shape. Dominic can do that. He was a good player and is an even better coach and teacher," Feliciano explains. "I feel good about my decision. Everything is falling into place."

Next year will not only be Feliciano's 20th as Tomales head coach, it will also be the senior season for the second of his four children, Dante, who was an All-Empire defensive end as a junior this year. Oldest son, Anthony, graduates this spring after becoming the second best all-time Tomales rushing leader and an All-League selection. Youngest son, Dominic, is 9 years old and a few years away from his Tomales career. Feliciano and wife, Nicole, also have a daughter, Natalya, who is 11.

Feliciano says coaching Anthony and Dante has been both a privilege and a pleasure. "They have been around Tomales football all their lives," their father/coach points out. "They know where they stand. There is no entitlement about it. Their work ethic has been excellent. They have earned the respect of their peers and their opponents."

Their father/coach has earned that same respect. He was chosen the North Coast Section Honor Coach of the Year in 2011 and the Redwood Empire's Small School Coach of the Year in 1998. He is the all-time winningest coach at Tomales with 130 victories with a season still to coach. In 19 seasons, his Tomales team have participated in the North Coast Section playoffs 16 times. Six times the Braves have been North Central League II champions. His teams have won three North Coast Section championships and four other times played in NCS championship games.

All this at a school that has annually been among the smallest of the small schools in the Redwood Empire. And it's not getting any bigger. "When I started in 1996, we had an enrollment of 280, now we're at 172," he says. "That's a hit."

Compounding the numbers problem is the growing Tomales soccer program. The school is now comprised of almost 50 percent Hispanic students and many good athletes end up playing soccer. "That's great," Feliciano says. "I'm proud of our soccer program, but it does take a toll on football."

Still, football is a part of life at Tomales High School, and the Friday night games are a social occasion, with parents and fans coming from all around to be part of the Brave family. "It is like I have another family besides my own," the coach says. "I've developed some very special relationships. I've performed weddings and spoken at funerals. It is special."

It has been made more special for Feliciano because he has been able to coach almost from the beginning with two good friends — John "Mitch" Mitchell and Bill Tucker. Mitchell has been the defensive coordinator at Tomales for 25 years, while Tucker, who is also the varsity baseball coach, has coached at Tomales for 29 years.

Feliciano is stepping down from the head coaching position, but not retiring. He will remain as a teacher at Tomales and doesn't rule out the possibility of coaching in the future.

He rates being selected for the NCS Honor Coach of the Year Award in 2011 and winning his first NCS championship in 1998 among his proudest accomplishments. "Receiving the recognition of your peers is quite an accomplishment," he explains, "and winning the first NCS title is special."

But, his proudest accomplishment is his players, like Dan Moreda, who won the NFL Scholarship Award for Marin County and was honored at a gala dinner, along with football players from throughout the Bay Area, and all the other players who call him and visit when they can. "Being in their lives after graduation is really special," he says.

Feliciano not only leaves a legacy of success, but also a tradition of how that success was accomplished. His double-wing offense, featuring a tightly packed line and two running backs behind a quarterback who seldom throws, has received national attention. He has been the featured speaker at the Double Wing National Symposium on several occasions. "That was huge for a small school like Tomales to be recognized," he says.

It is fitting that Tomales' home football games in his final season will be played on a lighted field, because the coach spearheaded the effort to bring lights to Andy Azevedo Field when games had been traditionally played Saturday afternoons. Now, for Feliciano, there is just one more season of Friday night lights and the Braves' special brand of grind-it-out football.