(M. Terry/SFVS) In Pursuit of Excellence — The seniors at Panorama High School, including (l-r) Raymond Torralba, Melvin Linares, Kurt Urrutia, Sean Munsch and Joseph Cruz, want to leave a legacy of winning football for the program.

Adrian Beltran is the longest-tenured head coach in the short history of Panorama High varsity football, which began in 2007. And there have admittedly been more lows than highs; the lowest point came in 2017, when the team went 0-10.

Beltran — who became head coach in 2013 — didn’t throw up his hands and depart following that disastrous year. Nor did he let others inside and outside the school strong-arm him into changing the program from 11-man to eight-man. He didn’t want to let down the area kids who wanted to stay and play for him.

But some things had to change. One of them was the approach to offense; Panorama switched over to a run-heavy triple-option style of attack that better fit the personalities of the gritty East Valley youths who make up the team.

The other change was the one the coach made about himself. His childhood friend and Pythons defensive coordinator Erik Peraza was gently, but firmly, chiding Beltran to micromanage less and let the kids play more. And he finally agreed.

“I tried to be so on top of everything,” Beltran said. “[Peraza] was telling me, ‘don’t be scared to open up, trust the kids, don’t be scared to make mistakes.’ And he was right. I needed to open up.

“I was hesitant at first because I know where they come from; many come here in the ninth grade never having played a lick of football in their lives. I don’t want them to just keep getting blown out. But I [understood] I had to trust them, even on some plays where I might not have been comfortable doing so — maybe we didn’t practice that specific play or move or formation. I’m comfortable in taking that risk with our kids now because they have ‘bought in’ to us. And I have ‘bought in’ to them making that right decision.”

The progression has been apparent over the last three years. In 2019, Panorama won six games, equaling the program’s best-ever seasonal win total. That also included winning a playoff game for the second time in the Pythons’ history.

Last year’s spring season only had three games, but Panorama won two of them. And in 2021, the Pythons are 5-4 going into the final regular-season game against Kennedy High on Friday, Oct. 29. They should also expect a Division III playoff game when the seedings are announced this weekend.

“All the time we tell the kids about accountability; that you can be a great young adult, be responsible, have good morals, be a punctual and hard worker, and football will take care of itself,” Beltran said. “We preach hard work, discipline and dedication. If they do that, the ‘Xs’ and ‘Os’ will come. Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves on Friday.

“At Panorama there’s been a lot of heartache; sometimes it was rough to keep going out there on Friday nights. But now…everybody has ‘bought in’ collectively — the community, the kids. That’s been the biggest lesson.”

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Several of the current seniors laud last year’s graduating class for creating a new, positive atmosphere for the team. And this senior class is doing what it can to keep that culture in place.

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“When I first got here I felt we were kinda all over the place — we didn’t have a foundation yet,” said Joseph Cruz, 17, a senior who lines up at tight end, defensive end, and linebacker.

“But the last group of seniors did establish a nice foundation for us going forward. And I feel Coach [Beltran] has definitely let us play more as ourselves. We just got this offense 3-4 years ago. And now that we have developed it, we’re more into it — we can do more things. It feels more natural.”

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Quarterback Melvin Linares, 17, who also plays safety, noted the triple-option gave the players an offensive identity to embrace.

“[The recent success] has a lot to do with the coaches coming up with the new offense. They realized the other one wasn’t working,” Linares said. He also complimented the underclassmen wanting to blend in. “They really want to make a difference.”

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Kurt Urrutia, another senior who plays fullback and linebacker, said it’s been “an honor” to play at his neighborhood school. But he’s also happy to be part of the collection of players who, over the past four years has helped to restore Panorama’s reputation as a relative program, especially in the tough Valley Mission League which also houses such well-established teams as Canoga Park, Kennedy, Reseda, and San Fernando. 

“When I was in middle school, Panorama wasn’t that well known,” said Urrutia, 17. “Now that we’re here it is known…it feels good to be here and part of this team. It is a good team.”

The players are proud to say they feel Panorama is on the way to being a consistently competitive program, year in and year out.

“The legacy we want to leave is to keep winning,” said senior wide receiver Sean Munsch, 17. “If we keep winning, we can put this school on the map.”