By Mateo Portilla.
Jose Portilla has been coaching the Heritage Academy football team for eight years and has been teaching at Heritage Academy for six years. Coach Portilla enjoys helping art students improve their paintings, teaching athletes how to build muscle in the weight room, and winning state titles for the Heritage Academy Football team. Although Coach Portilla is one of the most beloved and feared teachers ( yes it’s possible to be both when you are 6’7 ) most students probably don’t know much about his previous life before coming to Heritage.
Jose Portilla was born in Mexico. He lived there until he was six years old when his mother, three sisters, and himself moved to Houston, Texas. In the first few years after moving to America, Jose struggled in school because he did not speak fluent English. Because of this, Jose turned to other activities such as sports. In high school he started playing football and soon became completely in love with the sport. As Jose recalled, his first year trying to play football, one of the coaches told him, “You probably will never see the field, why don’t you try playing something else.” This only made Jose more determined to prove the coaches wrong. After three years of hard work and never missing a practice, Jose started as tight end. By the end of the year, he was selected to go to All State and offered scholarships to a few junior colleges. Jose played one year at Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) before going on his mission. Jose was called to serve in the Chicago Spanish speaking mission. Jose admitted that “serving my mission was probably the two best years of my life.”
Once he returned from his mission, Jose played another football season at Ricks College. This was Jose’s best season yet. Teams from across the country offered Jose scholarships. The final decision came down to two schools: Arizona and Tennessee. Jose ultimately picked Arizona because it had a very good art program. Once he arrived in Arizona, Jose had to start from the bottom and claw his way to the top once again. By the end of his senior year, Jose was one of the top linemen in college football. He was invited to the senior bowl to showcase his skills in front of the many NFL scouters that would be there. Unfortunately, while warming up with other great players across the country, another player fell right on Jose’s knee, tearing his ACL. The game was finished before it even started for Jose. Not only did Jose not get to play in the game, teams did not want to draft him because they feared he wouldn’t be the same player after the traumatic injury. Jose went from being a first round draft pick to not being drafted at all. Just like that, Jose felt a lifetime of hard work starting to slip right through his fingertips.
Just as everything seemed hopeless, Coach Portilla got a call from his agent saying that there were two teams still interested in him. One of with was The Atlanta Falcons. They wanted Jose to come work out for the team when he was healthy to see if he could still play. A few months later, Jose attended football camp with the Falcons. Like so many times before, Jose had to start from the bottom. Despite having excruciating pain in his knee, he made the teams final roster after a very good football camp and preseason. Only three games into the season, the Falcons named Jose a starter. It was a magical year for Jose, as the Atlanta Falcons made it to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. Although they did not win, Jose always treasured being able to play in the big game. He was also the first player born in Mexico besides a few kickers to ever play in the Super Bowl. After that season, Jose played another season with the Falcons, but this season did not end as well as the first. Jose tore his ACL again, and decided to call it a career in the NFL.
After playing football for so long, Jose wanted to take a break from the physical toll that the sport put on his body. Jose became a professional painter. After several years of painting, Jose moved to Arizona to be closer to his wife’s family. When he moved there, he started helping coach his brother-in-law’s (Spencer Bowers) high school team, which happened to be the Heritage Heroes. After two years of part-time coaching, Coach Portilla decided to return to school and get his teaching degree. Once he was finished with school, he applied for a job at Heritage Academy, where he has been teaching ever since. After four more years of coaching, Jose was named the head coach and has lead his team to the championship game.