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Hall of Famer honored

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The man who made Tomales High School synonymous with power football will be honored for his accomplishments on Nov. 5 when he is inducted into the Marin County Athletic Hall of Fame.

Leon Feliciano coached football at the small school near the Marin-Sonoma order for 19 years. During that period, his teams had a string of 16 straight appearances in the North Coast Section playoffs and 17 overall.

“I feel touched and humbled,” he said.

Playing against schools that generally were larger than Tomales, Felciano’s teams had a 143-71-4 record. They won six consecutive North Central League II championships from 2006-2011, at one point winning 38 straight games. The Braves won three NCS title and were in the finals seven times.

His accomplishments did not go unnoticed. In 2011 he was chosen the North Coast Section Honor Coach for football.

It wasn’t only success that made Feliciano’s teams special, it was also the way it was accomplished. Feliciano resurrected the 1930s-vintage double wing offense, packed the line in tight and came running at the opposition. Tomales seldom passed and was known to control the ball from five to eight minutes and more at a time, unless one of its speedy backs broke a long gainer. The Braves had such success with the system that Eeliciano was asked to present the keynote address at the Double Wing Symposium, a national convention of high school football coaches who use the unique offense.

Feliciano’s Braves never kicked PAT’s. Confident in their ability to gain 21/2 yards at any time, they always ran for two points on their conversion attempts.

His Braves were aggressive on both sides of the football leading to Tomales adopting the fitting motto of “Smash-mouth football.”

Feliciano credits much of his success to being the right man in the right place at the right time.

“Timing is everything,” the San Francisco native said. “I came to Tomales at a time when the enrollment was fairly high (over 300 students compared to the current student population of around 160). Football was definitely the sport on campus. We had a lot of physical kids who like contact and liked to run the football, and I inherited a very good group of assistant coaches.”

The Tomales brand of football excited not only the school, but the entire extended community. Every Saturday afternoon, and, later, every Friday night, students and fans would quickly overflow the stands at Andy Azevedo Stadium and surround the field, often two or three deep. The town is about 200 residents, but after lights were installed, it wasn’t unusual for more than 1,000 fans to show up for a game.

“Tomales got stereotyped as a football school and the players and the town bought into it,” Feliciano said.

Feliciano is the man who brought Friday night lights to Tomales. Convinced that the Braves deserved a chance to play under the lights like other teams, he worked hard and finally was able to bring in temporary lights for a trail run and eventually prevailed when the Tomales boosters were able to buy and install permanent lights.

“We wanted to give our kids the same experience of playing under the lights that other kids had,” the coach explained.

The honored coach played football at San Francisco State, coached as an assistant at the University of San Francisco for 10 years and then at Lincoln in San Francisco for two years before landing the Tomales job.

It was one of those events that, in retrospect, seems predestined,

Two years ago, after Dante, the second of his three sons, graduated and Tomales, with a steadily declining enrollment, was headed for eight-man football, Feliciano resigned from his football position, although he remains a teacher at the school.

He assisted for a year at El Molino, but this year is a spectator.

Is retirement forever?

“Something like this (being named to the Hall of Fame) makes me miss it,” he said.