Coach John Featherstone is affectionately referred to as Feather—an icon and a legend in the community college football world. After 31 years of coaching at El Camino College, he retired in 2015.
Feather briskly walks across the Warriors’ field, soon to be known as Featherstone Field, with a huge, contagious smile on his face. This field is a happy place for him, as he had one of the highest winning percentages in community college football history.
He asks the new coach, “How did the boys do?” The coach responds, “They lost to Riverside, but they beat Bakersfield.”
Feather nods his head in acknowledgement and then immediately asks, “So how did the boys do?” He repeats the same question several more times.
A calm, patient, female voice chimes in and continually answers his questions for him. She whispers to the coach, “The first rule is to never say, ‘Don’t you remember?’” The voice is that of his wife of seven years, Diane Frohoff.
Six months after they married, the man she loves was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). A year later at the young age of 64, he was diagnosed with early onset chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE—a form of dementia that is caused from head trauma. CTE has mostly been found in football players and is caused by too many concussions.
As a child he was accidentally struck in the back of the head with a hoe while playing a game with a friend. Another major head injury came after riding his bike and accidentally running into a chain-link fence. Combine these two injuries with years of playing football, and you have the three contributing factors to his CTE.
Feather grew up with two brothers, across the street from Live Oak Park. They spent innumerable hours playing baseball on the dirt field, running up and down the beaches, playing volleyball and surfing.
Feather proceeded to play football at Mira Costa and El Camino before earning a scholarship to San Diego State as a wide receiver, where he got the opportunity to play under legendary coach Don Coryell. In 1969 he was named MVP of the Pasadena Bowl after scoring two touchdowns. San Diego State defeated Boston University that day, 28–7.
“His positive attitude rubs off on everyone around him.”
Coach Coryell started to ask Feather his opinions about plays, and they soon became friends. After graduation he did some assistant coaching at SDSU and a few other colleges in the San Diego area. It came as no surprise when Feather brought the “Air Coryell” passing game back to the South Bay when he was named head coach of the El Camino College Warriors.
Using this system, his overall record at El Camino was an astounding 214 wins, 119 losses and two ties. Under his leadership, the Warriors won two state titles, 11 conference championships and appeared in 19 bowl games. They also appeared in three National Championships and ultimately succeeded in winning the National Championship in 1987.
Honored eight times as the California Coach of the Year, Feather was also voted National Coach of the Year in 2008. In addition, he coached more than three dozen players into professional football, including Keith Ellison of the Buffalo Bills.
“Feather is one of the nicest coaches you’d ever want to meet or play for,” shares Keith, who played for the Bills from 2006 to 2010. “He had the right touch with players, and I’ve never seen him in a bad mood. His positive attitude rubs off on everyone around him.”
While coaching at El Camino, Feather was also busy at home with four daughters. Seeing the future of the sport of beach volleyball, he offered one of the only youth beach volleyball camps in the South Bay from 1993 to 2013 at 14th Street in Manhattan Beach. With a major impact on the growth of the sport, he was inducted into the California Beach Volleyball Association’s Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport as a teacher, tournament director and a referee.
Despite it all, Feather has not lost that contagious smile. He and Diane continue to live life to its fullest—watching their kids and grandkids play sports and enjoying the lifestyle offered here in Southern California.
More than a pipe dream.