There’s little doubt who will be first into the Fullerton College athletic offices each morning.
The honor goes to defensive backs coach Al Feola, who has been coaching at the college longer than anyone else on staff. He started his 33rd year about two weeks ago.
Feola, like former Fullerton football Coach Hal Sherbeck, is known for his long hours, hard work and positive results.
He has helped develop many talented players, 17 of whom have earned All-American honors at defensive back.
Feola, 60, arrives at the college each morning about 4:30 a.m. and goes through a long workout that includes weights and running.
“He’s mad if his car isn’t in the No. 1 spot in our parking lot,” said Marv Sampson, who is also a Fullerton assistant. Sampson has known Feola since 1954, when they played football at Pepperdine.
“He’s very diligent about his sit-ups and everything else. I’ll bet there aren’t too many 60-year-old men that are in as good a shape as him.”
Feola attributes his continued desire to stay fit to inner strength that allows him to stay active.
“I never feel tired,” he said. “Never once can I remember feeling tired. No matter what.”
This from a man who sleeps about four hours on a good night.
“You can train your body not to need so much sleep,” Feola said.
Feola honed his knack for operating on little rest while attending Pepperdine. He was often too busy to sleep for long.
He had been an outstanding defensive back and running back at Alhambra High School, graduating in 1952. He then played two years at Pasadena, where he met Carol, his wife of 39 years.
“I told a buddy of mine to get me a date with her,” Feola said. “I knew that she was the woman I was going to marry.”
After two standout years at Pasadena, Feola moved on to Pepperdine, where he played football, went to class, worked midnight to 6 a.m. at Hughes Aircraft and helped Carol with the first of their three children.
He was also active in local boxing events; he still teaches the sport at Fullerton.
Feola dreamed of playing professional football and had tryouts with the Rams, Raiders and Redskins but never stuck with a team for long.
He got a job teaching and coaching football at Serra High School in Gardena for a couple of years before becoming an assistant at Fullerton High in 1960.
Feola was working as a lifeguard at the Fullerton College pool in the summer of 1961 to help make ends meet.
About then, Sherbeck, who had just taken over the football program at the college, walked out on the pool deck to have a look at his new surroundings.
He and Feola started talking and Sherbeck said he knew right away he wanted him on the staff. So Feola was hired and moved across the street to the office he has had for 33 years.
“It’s gone by quite fast,” Feola said. “It really doesn’t seem possible.”
He and Sherbeck shared the same desire for success and the two started meeting before dawn most days to work out and prepare for the day. They were both at the college most mornings for 31 years before Sherbeck retired to Montana in the summer of 1992.
“We never really did that many things together all those mornings,” Sherbeck said. “But it was always nice to know he was there. We would get together and talk over the game plan sometimes.
“It was just nice to have someone else around. Al is a true Hornet, there is no question about that.”
Some thought that when Sherbeck left, Feola might pull back a bit, but he hasn’t wavered from his self-appointed schedule.
“I’ve got my own weight room each morning,” Feola said. “It’s always been a lot of fun. . . .I’ve in no way, shape or form felt myself slowing down.”
Besides being in tremendous shape, Feola said he also has been able to stay young by spending so much time with college-age athletes. The constant changes in the game also keep him alert.
One of the ways Feola and defensive coordinator Jeff Jespersen stay current is by keeping in touch with former players who are coaching or playing on other levels.
Among those they stay in contact with is Paul Moyer, who is the in his fourth year as the defensive backfield coach of the Seattle Seahawks after a seven-year NFL career with the same team.
John Pease, in his eighth season with the New Orleans Saints, was also a player and coach at Fullerton.
Mark Collins of the New York Giants, who played at Cal State Fullerton, was also at Fullerton this summer helping out.
After 33 years, Feola have any thoughts about retiring?
“Not really,” he said. “As long as you like what you do and can still get excited about it, then why stop? But, I do think about moving on. Jeff (Pease) and some others are interested in getting head-coaching jobs.
“At Fullerton we only draw a few thousand a game. I think it would be so exciting to be in a stadium where there are 50,000. I always tell them that if they need an old backpedaler, I’m their man.”