Goodness, Gracious, Snakes Alive!

M. Terry / SFVS

Making Progress — Pythons (l-r) David Avalos, Lionel Castaneda, Ramiro Rios and Melvin Linares are four reasons why fans are getting excited about Panorama High football.

The year 2010 had many notable moments —  Apple releases the iPad, Sony retires the Walkman cassette player, a trillion-dollar stock market crash, the Lakers win (so far) their last NBA championship, California’s Prop. 8 banning same-sex marriage is overturned by the courts, Hurricane Sandy causes $56 billion in damage to the East Coast and rapper Eminem’s album “Recovery” is the best-selling LP worldwide.

On a slightly less global scale, the Panorama High football team went 6-6 in the City Section and reached the Division II quarterfinals. The record would have been even better if the team hadn’t had to forfeit its first three games.

There hasn’t been much to write about since then. The Pythons have endured eight consecutive losing seasons, two of them winless seasons and three of them single-win seasons. On a misery-index scale of 1 to 10, it felt like a 25.

Panorama is presently 2-2 this season. More telling, the Pythons have won their last two games by lopsided shutouts — 68-0 over Rancho Dominguez High of Long Beach on Sept. 6, and 41-0 over Roybal High of Los Angeles on Sept. 13. They take on Kennedy High (2-1) on Friday, Sept. 20, in the Valley Mission League opener for both. The game is considered a tossup, meaning the Pythons could win three in a row for the first time since 2010.

“I’ve been waiting for [success like that] since my freshman year,” said quarterback Lionel Castaneda, 17, a senior.

He’s not alone.

Adrian Beltran — who has worked at Panorama since 2009, starting out as a campus aide before getting his teaching credential — has been the head coach here since 2013. He has seen more than his share of lean times, including an 0-10 season in 2017. But last year, with a falling student population at the campus in general, and fewer and fewer students coming out for the sport, it was being strongly suggested to him that he consider converting the program to 8-man football.

“I didn’t want to take that step backward,” Beltran said. Yet something drastically had to change. So a month before the 2018 season began, Beltran and his coaches junked the ‘spread’ passing offensive scheme they had worked on in the spring and summer, and installed the Double-wing T running attack.

The players were more bemused than horrified at the sudden shift, and the limited time they had to absorb it.

“I had to learn a lot,” recalled offensive lineman Ramiro Rios, 17, a senior. “Before, you just had to worry about [the frontside] of the defensive formation. Now I have to also worry about the backside, even if our play isn’t going that way.”

It was a radical re-education for senior wide receiver David Avalos as well. “I thought ‘wide receiver’ was just catching the ball and having the spotlight on you,” said Avalos, 17. “It’s way different than that. We get balls thrown to us. But we have to make sure we make our blocks, too. If we miss a block that can mess up the play.”

Even the coaches were making mistakes, Beltran said. “We’d look back at game film and say to ourselves ‘what were we thinking?’ We had to learn it (as the season went along), be more comfortable with it. It definitely feels like night and day from last year to this year, as far as the offense.”

The Pythons still managed to win three games (and also a tie), and qualify for the Division III playoffs — “the first playoff game in four years,” Beltran said. The players and coaches then spent the spring and summer offseason relentlessly drilling and practicing on the new offense (as well as a new defense).

And now?

“(At first) I didn’t know what to do,” said Rios, who plays center and calls out the blocking signals for the offensive line. “But now I’m not thinking; I’m just reacting to what the defense gives us.”

“I’d never seen anyone really run this offense before,” said sophomore wide receiver Melvin Linares, 16. “I kinda like it. There are not many [play] calls. It’s pretty easy to catch on to.”

“I like it,” added Castaneda. “It feels like it suits me…I like running the ball and hitting people. And people are still surprised when they see it. It’s something from the past.”

The Pythons could be 3-1. After dropping the Aug. 23 season opener to Chavez, Panorama had a 21-0 first half lead on Angelou Community High of Los Angeles the following week. But, Beltran said, “the kids weren’t used to having success” and let Angelou Community overtake them, 32-21.

The last two games, however, feel more like validation that Panorama has finally figured some things out.

“The kids are finally seeing the hard work paying off,” the coach said. “And they’re understanding that it’s not a coincidence that they are winning, and shutting down people. It’s through the hard work. We preach to them that hard work pays off, but kids want some proof in the pudding.

“The last two weeks we’ve been after them to do the little things and to not disrespect the game: play it the right way, play hard every down and every play. Football is a very physical sport and you never know when it’s your last play. So don’t disrespect the game. I think they have bought in.”

The future is filled with intrigue. Can Panorama continue to build on its current uplifting trend? Can they win more than one league game? Could they get back to the playoffs and even advance?

That has yet to play out. But for the first time in nearly 10 years, the Pythons have a reason to believe.

“Our past history wasn’t too good, and that's all [the school] saw,” Avalos said. “We’re trying to show them the new team we’ve got. The last two games have shown us what we can do with the team we’ve got, and the energy we bring to the field on Friday.”

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