Arizona athletes

Former Arizona lineman Jose Portilla coaches Heritage Academy to consecutive state titles

The success of former Arizona offensive tackle Jose Portilla continues 23 years after he was a standout with the Wildcats.

The first Mexican-born player to play in the Super Bowl is a repeat champion as head coach at Heritage Academy in Mesa.

Portilla, with the Wildcats in 1996 and 1997 after transferring from Ricks College in Idaho, has coached at Heritage Academy, a charter school within the Canyon Athletic Association, since 2017.

He coached the Heroes, who compete in 8-player football, to the D2 state championship game in 2018 and a state title in 2019 and this season. The CAA is the charter-school version of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Heritage Academy coach Jose Portilla with standout Cooper Ross after the Heroes beat Surprise Highland Prep 46-6 for the CAA D2 state championship on Dec. 5 (Heritage Academy photo)

 “All the seniors stepped up this year with so many distractions that came with the pandemic,” Portilla told “They took it upon themselves to lead the young group to the state title.”

Portilla is 29-6 in his four years as head coach, including a 17-0 stretch over the last two seasons.

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Portilla was a two-year starter for the Wildcats, playing for coach Dick Tomey, earning Pac-10 All-Academic first-team honors his senior season.

He signed with the Atlanta Falcons in 1998 as an undrafted free agent and played in all 16 regular-season games and three postseason games, including the NFC Championship and Super Bowl XXXIII.

After two seasons with the Falcons, he played for Los Angeles in the XFL in 2001.

Portilla developed into a professional artist after earning a degree in Visual Communications at Arizona.

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He has taught art, weight training, PE, football and basketball at Heritage Academy since 2010. Before becoming the head coach in 2017, he served as an assistant since 2012, including as the offensive and defensive line coach. Heritage won state championships from 2010-2016. 

“I compare situations of football to their personal experiences which they are having at school, personal life and their future,” Portilla said of his coaching philosophy. “The old saying is true – it’s not where you start but how you finish that will count.”

Portilla is one of 42 former Arizona athletes who is a head coach from the high school to pro ranks. He is also one of 13 former football players who are head coach, seven of whom played for Tomey. A teammate on the offensive line, Edwin Mulitalo, is the head coach at Southern Virginia University.

Portilla was the right tackle and Mulitalo the left tackle in the 1997 season. They started every game.

Here is a list of the 42 head coaches who were Arizona athletes:


List of head coaches of various sports and different levels who competed at Arizona. *-Denotes did not finish career at Arizona. Compiled by
NameUATeam SportStart
Candace Abrams2000-04Clarendon (Texas) JCSoftball2020
Amy Baray-Rocha1999Salpointe Catholic HSSoftball2015
Adia Barnes1995-99ArizonaWomen's hoops2016
Marcus Bell1996-99Eagar Round Valley HSFootball2011
Heidi Bomberger-Bruschi1993-97Attleboro (MA) Feehan HSVolleyball 2020
Matt Brase2003-05Haiti National TeamMen's hoops2017
Robert Bonillas1995-98Desert View HSFootball2012
Tod Brown1990-94New MexicoBaseball2022
Casey Candaele1980-82Toronto Blue Jays Triple-ABaseball2021
Jackie Coburn2002-05Scottsdale Horizon HSSoftball2013
Troy Cooke1982-84Show Low HSBoys hoops2020
Clark Crist1977-80Pulaski (VA) River TurtlesBaseball2021
Debby Day1989-91Cal-LutheranSoftball2002
Jay Dobyns1982-84Tanque Verde HSFootball2020
Britt Echols*2001Sahuaro HSBaseball2020
Byron Evans 1983-86South Mountain HSFootball2020
Terry Francona1977-80Cleveland IndiansMLB2013
Tanya Farhat-Villarreal1994-97West Bend (WI) Slinger HSSoftball2015
Brenda Frese1989-93MarylandWomen's hoops2002
Kristie Fox2004-07UNLVSoftball2017
Margo Geer2011-14AlabamaSwimming/Diving2020
Jason Hisey1988-91Canyon del Oro HSBaseball2019
Jack Howell1983Anaheim Angels Single-ABaseball2021
Krista Humphreys1993-96Corona (CA) Centennial HSSoftball2015
Stacey Iveson1986-89Israel National TeamSoftball2019
Mark Keel1979-82Silverdale (WA) Central Kitsap HSFootball2000
Steve Kerr1983-88Golden State WarriorsNBA2014
Michael Klyce2004-08Los Angeles Locke HSFootball2017
David Landrith1980-83Pusch Ridge HSBaseball2019
Andy Litten1999-03Scottsdale Horizon HSFootball2021
Hunter Long2013-15Douglas HSFootball2019
Michael Lopez2009-12Big Spring (TX) Howard JCBaseball2020
Caitlin Lowe2004-07Arizona Softball2022
Paige Maggio2013-16Mountain View HSGirls soccer2018
Brandon Manumaleuna1997-00Lawndale (CA) Leuzinger HSFootball2020
Jennifer Martinez2008-09Abraham Baldwin (GA) JCSoftball2017
Scott McKee1999-02Sahuaro HSFootball2009
Craig McMillan1984-88Santa Rosa (CA) JCMen's hoops2000
Richard Mercado2002-04Santa Ana (CA) Mater Dei HSBaseball2019
Leighton Milton1992-93Hollywood (CA) HSFootball2020
Edwin Mulitalo1995-98Southern VirginiaFootball2018
Ronnie Palmer2005-08Monterrey Peninsula (CA) JCFootball2020
Josh Pastner1996-00Georgia TechMen's hoops2016
Jose Portilla1996-97Heritage AcademyFootball2017
Jody Pruitt1990-93Peoria Sunrise Mountain HSSoftball2011
Rebekah Quiroz2002Pima CCSoftball2019
Danielle Steinberg2005-09ColoradoWomen's tennis2018
Gina Snyder2018-19Manatee (FL) SqueezeSoftball2020
Jason Stewart1997-99Encinitas (CA) San Dieguito HSBoys hoops2014
Damon Stoudamire1992-95PacificMen's hoops2016
Rafael Valenzuela2008-10Tampa Bay Rays Rookie LeagueBaseball2019
Luke Walton1999-03Sacramento KingsNBA2019

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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