Aaron Feis, the football coach who ran toward the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, was a “Douglas guy.”
A 1999 graduate of the school, security guard and assistant football coach, he resisted offers from former Miami Dolphins lineman Jeff Dellenbach to lure him to coach at other high schools.
“I could never take him away,” Dellenbach told The Palm Beach Post on Thursday. “He was a Douglas guy, and did everything for the kids there.”
Friends and students were not surprised to hear stories of Feis’ heroics in the face of gunfire, shielding students with his lineman-sized body from an attacker who killed 17. Feis died in surgery late Wednesday.
“He selflessly shielded students from the shooter when he was shot,” the Douglas Eagles football team posted on Twitter. “He died a hero and he will forever be in our hearts and memories.”
‘A phenomenal man’
As a student, Feis played center for the Douglas Eagles. He lived in Coral Springs with his wife, Melissa, and their daughter, Arielle.
In comments to the media Thursday, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel praised Feis.
“My two boys played for him. He was a phenomenal man,” Israel said. “When Aaron Feis died, when he was killed tragically and inhumanely, he died protecting others. That’s who he was.’’
Dianjelo Amaya, 17, a Douglas junior who played cornerback and receiver for the football team, called Feis “a great person” and “a funny guy.” Asked about Feis’ final brave act, Amaya said, “I’m not surprised. That’s what he would do. He’s that type of person. Save people? That’s what he would do.”
Junior Olivia Prochilo said she has known Feis for years, and saw him on his golf cart at lunchtime Wednesday, just hours before the shooting.
She said he saved many students by telling them to run to safety, and shielded others from gunfire.
“He covered kids and took the gunshots for them,” she said.
Sophomore James Bolger, 16, would see Feis every day. “I would go to Starbucks, he was sitting right there, same place every day after school in his golf cart, just making sure everyone got home safe.
“He was a good man,” said Bolger, whose father, a detective and SWAT team member from Pembroke Pines, was one of the first responders at the school.
Sophomore Dylan O’Neill, 15, played football and had Feis as his lineman coach. “He was a great man. He’s up in heaven now. He’s an angel.”
‘A good family man’
Feis was remembered as a mentor to players and students.
“He was always helping kids,” said Dellenbach, a 15-year NFL veteran who coaches the Saint John Paul II Academy varsity football team in Boca Raton. “He was a good family man. The kids really enjoyed having him around.”
Dellenbach, who spent nine seasons with the Miami Dolphins, has known Feis for about 20 years. They worked together to train student-athletes and send them to college.
He said Thursday it was totally in Feis’ character to protect students.
“That’s exactly who he is,” Dellenbach said. “He just put everybody else first. It was all about taking care of people around him.”
Helping out players
Feis often sent players for Dellenbach to train and also to get them into college.
They were in touch often, and Dellenbach said he even attempted to get Feis to leave Douglas and coach with him. Dellenbach coached at a handful of high schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties, including Boca Raton, Plantation-American Heritage and Coconut Creek-North Broward Prep.
Feis never took him up on the offer.
Kenny Gendason, a former wrestling coach and security officer at Douglas, wore his Douglas shirt to work Thursday at his new job at Monarch High School in Coconut Creek to honor Feis.
Staff writers Eliot Kleinberg, Jeff Ostrowski and Hal Habib contributed to this story.