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Benefield: Tomales Braves exemplify synergy

  • Tomales High School coach Leon Feliciano talks to his 14-man football team after the Braves beat Hoopa Valley 41-12 on Friday night. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

TOMALES — The Tomales Braves are on a campaign this season. A campaign to not just win games but to reignite a program with a tradition that for decades has made the stadium on Irvin Road the place to be on Friday nights.

The Braves win games. Almost always have.

But despite a winning tradition, the Braves can feel it slipping away.

Tomales High Football

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Fourteen players busted through the banner and took the field in the season opener against Hoopa Valley Friday night. Considering that 11 players are on the field — that is, quite literally, not much breathing room.

“We got some good kids, there are some tough kids,” head coach Leon Feliciano said. “We just don’t have a lot of them.”

It’s been a wave that’s been building off shore for years — declining enrollment and the emerging popularity of soccer that’s poaching top athletes from the football squad. The wave has crested and is pounding the Braves.

So few kids came out for the team this season that under “experience,” three guys on the roster are listed with “none.” There is no junior varsity squad.

“We’re small but mighty,” said senior running back and linebacker Willy Lepori.

The small but mighty Braves put a thumping on the visiting Warriors on Friday night. The scoreboard read 41-12, but it said more than that. It said we’re here, we’re tough — we are not going anywhere.

“With 14 guys …” Feliciano was looking toward the scoreboard which had already been erased, already moving on to the next game. “That (game) gave us buy in. To all the guys who didn’t believe — a lot of kids quit and didn’t come out. We’ve got to hang in tight together.”


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