Billy Parra, like many football coaches, is a mountain climber.
Not in the literal sense; you won’t find pictures of him scaling Gibraltar or Kilimanjaro. But coaching team sports is about seeking new heights and teaching others — and occasionally yourself — how to face seemingly overwhelming obstacles and come out on top.
Parra is in his 25th season of dealing with the peaks and valleys of his chosen profession, with stops that include Granada Hills Charter and Crespi. He said he’s always been happy to coach and teach teams that are built primarily from neighborhood kids — “it’s about creating a culture of ‘what I have, I’m gonna work with that’” — and St. Genevieve in Panorama City is no exception.
But then again, this season, maybe it is.
The unbeaten Valiants (3-0) list 38 players on the varsity roster. But 17 of those players are seniors, and have spent all four of their high school years at St. Genevieve.
That is Parra’s favorite stat.
“I know everybody uses the term ‘brotherhood,’ when they talk about their teams,” Parra said. “But for me, to have a closeness and friendship — a genuine love for your teammates — is something to see.
“I don’t know how to describe it other than they know they have each other’s back. And that can be in any form or fashion. Certainly they have egos — everybody has a little ego in them. But…in a day and age when it’s much easier to transfer, it’s [great] to see 17 boys stay in the program.”
Three of those seniors agreed that the opportunity to have played all four years at the same school has forged an unbreakable bond, and a belief that they will all go far if they all go together.
“During my freshman year I was really shy,” said Riley Morris, 17, who plays tight end and defensive end. “But joining the football team — I knew all these guys growing up from playing Pop Warner ball — it’s been great having a real bond with my teammates.”
Running back Camdan McWright, who Parra said has a scholarship offer from Army West Point and has drawn interest from Stanford, Purdue, Utah and Vanderbilt as well, speaks glowingly of the seniors’ “chemistry” that has developed over the four-year span.
“I really feel something special with my class of 2022,” said McWright, 17, who also plays linebacker. “We all came here together. And it will be really satisfying, like Riley says, to graduate together.
“It’s kind of rare these days [for players] to stay at the same high school all four years. I’m really going to try and enjoy every moment of it. Even off the field we’re brothers — our bond is very tight.”
Wide receiver and defensive back Jason Canales, who’s about to turn 18, adds, “There’s something unique about this place. Our coaches do preach about staying together. But (this group) really connected fast from our first year. I think it would have been hard to find something [like this] at a different school. I couldn’t imagine it.”
Parra said players having unconditional support and trust in each other have been keys to his best teams. Like the 2013 Granada Hills squad that won the West Valley League championship. Or the 2016 Valiants team that went 11-2 and reached the semifinals of the Southern Section’s Division XII playoffs.
The 2021 Valiants are showing signs of being elite. After posting back-to-back shutouts against Canyon of Canyon Country and Burroughs in its first two games, St. Genevieve hammered Harvard-Westlake High last week, 56-28.
That could make this week’s game against host Burbank (1-3) on Friday, Sept. 17, a potential “trap” game for St. Genevieve. But the players say they will take no game or opponent for granted and not just because their league, Camino Real, has two other teams — Cantwell – Sacred Heart of Mary High of Montebello, and St. Pius X – St. Matthias Academy of Downey — that are currently undefeated.
These senior Valiants are optimistic that after so-so-seasons in their sophomore and junior years, this season can be a special one. And three games do not equate with “special” — not yet.
But the feeling is there.
“We definitely have the momentum continuing from being last year’s league champs (from the 2020 spring season),” Morris said. “We have a lot of good pieces and assets to this team. We’ve really found our rhythm, on both offense and defense.”
Canales agrees. “We have every piece that was missing from the seniors who left last year in the new players we have this year,” he said. “Now we just have to play out each week and see what happens.”
“Coach [Parra] has had this motto for us since our freshman year: ‘Trust the process,’” McWright adds. “We always trust the process.
“There have been hard times, and there have been things we had to deal with inside the locker room. But I think we understand you have to stick out the rainy days to see the sunny days.”