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.
“All the seniors stepped up this year with so many distractions that came with the pandemic,” Portilla told AZCAAPreps.com. “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.
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.
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:
FORMER ARIZONA ATHLETES WHO ARE HEAD COACHESList of head coaches of various sports and different levels who competed at Arizona. *-Denotes did not finish career at Arizona. Compiled by AllSportsTucson.com.
|Candace Abrams||2000-04||Clarendon (Texas) JC||Softball||2020|
|Amy Baray-Rocha||1999||Salpointe Catholic HS||Softball||2015|
|Adia Barnes||1995-99||Arizona||Women's hoops||2016|
|Marcus Bell||1996-99||Eagar Round Valley HS||Football||2011|
|Heidi Bomberger-Bruschi||1993-97||Attleboro (MA) Feehan HS||Volleyball||2020|
|Matt Brase||2003-05||Haiti National Team||Men's hoops||2017|
|Robert Bonillas||1995-98||Desert View HS||Football||2012|
|Tod Brown||1990-94||New Mexico||Baseball||2022|
|Casey Candaele||1980-82||Toronto Blue Jays Triple-A||Baseball||2021|
|Jackie Coburn||2002-05||Scottsdale Horizon HS||Softball||2013|
|Troy Cooke||1982-84||Show Low HS||Boys hoops||2020|
|Clark Crist||1977-80||Pulaski (VA) River Turtles||Baseball||2021|
|Jay Dobyns||1982-84||Tanque Verde HS||Football||2020|
|Britt Echols*||2001||Sahuaro HS||Baseball||2020|
|Byron Evans||1983-86||South Mountain HS||Football||2020|
|Terry Francona||1977-80||Cleveland Indians||MLB||2013|
|Tanya Farhat-Villarreal||1994-97||West Bend (WI) Slinger HS||Softball||2015|
|Brenda Frese||1989-93||Maryland||Women's hoops||2002|
|Jason Hisey||1988-91||Canyon del Oro HS||Baseball||2019|
|Jack Howell||1983||Anaheim Angels Single-A||Baseball||2021|
|Krista Humphreys||1993-96||Corona (CA) Centennial HS||Softball||2015|
|Stacey Iveson||1986-89||Israel National Team||Softball||2019|
|Mark Keel||1979-82||Silverdale (WA) Central Kitsap HS||Football||2000|
|Steve Kerr||1983-88||Golden State Warriors||NBA||2014|
|Michael Klyce||2004-08||Los Angeles Locke HS||Football||2017|
|David Landrith||1980-83||Pusch Ridge HS||Baseball||2019|
|Andy Litten||1999-03||Scottsdale Horizon HS||Football||2021|
|Hunter Long||2013-15||Douglas HS||Football||2019|
|Michael Lopez||2009-12||Big Spring (TX) Howard JC||Baseball||2020|
|Paige Maggio||2013-16||Mountain View HS||Girls soccer||2018|
|Brandon Manumaleuna||1997-00||Lawndale (CA) Leuzinger HS||Football||2020|
|Jennifer Martinez||2008-09||Abraham Baldwin (GA) JC||Softball||2017|
|Scott McKee||1999-02||Sahuaro HS||Football||2009|
|Craig McMillan||1984-88||Santa Rosa (CA) JC||Men's hoops||2000|
|Richard Mercado||2002-04||Santa Ana (CA) Mater Dei HS||Baseball||2019|
|Leighton Milton||1992-93||Hollywood (CA) HS||Football||2020|
|Edwin Mulitalo||1995-98||Southern Virginia||Football||2018|
|Ronnie Palmer||2005-08||Monterrey Peninsula (CA) JC||Football||2020|
|Josh Pastner||1996-00||Georgia Tech||Men's hoops||2016|
|Jose Portilla||1996-97||Heritage Academy||Football||2017|
|Jody Pruitt||1990-93||Peoria Sunrise Mountain HS||Softball||2011|
|Rebekah Quiroz||2002||Pima CC||Softball||2019|
|Danielle Steinberg||2005-09||Colorado||Women's tennis||2018|
|Gina Snyder||2018-19||Manatee (FL) Squeeze||Softball||2020|
|Jason Stewart||1997-99||Encinitas (CA) San Dieguito HS||Boys hoops||2014|
|Damon Stoudamire||1992-95||Pacific||Men's hoops||2016|
|Rafael Valenzuela||2008-10||Tampa Bay Rays Rookie League||Baseball||2019|
|Luke Walton||1999-03||Sacramento Kings||NBA||2019|
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com 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 CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, 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.