As reported by our Steve Ramirez Thursday morning, La Serna High School has fired head coach Margarito Beltran.
The move comes just a day before La Serna opens the season against Eastlake on Friday night. The reasons given are somewhat vague (at least to me).
“Following allegations of an incident involving physical restraint of a special needs student, a La Serna High School teacher, who is also a member of the school’s athletics staff, was placed on paid administrative leave last week pending the outcome of an investigation,” Russell wrote in a press release. “However, after violating the terms of his paid leave, the employee has been removed from his coaching position and remains on paid administrative leave from his teaching position.”
This is the second peculiar thing this year about Beltran’s status at the school. Going into spring practice and the summer passing circuit, rumors swirled that Beltran was no long the Lancers’ coach. He put those to rest by saying he had taken medical leave and would return in time for the season, which looked exactly like what was happening.
Regardless, Beltran was one of the best around. His teams were an annual postseason force. His program one of the best around. His systems/schemes excellent. Get the point? This is the kinda guy who will likely catch on somewhere else.
Andy George, a La Serna assistant, will take over as the head man.
If the Bishop Amat High School football team comes up in its season opener against Mater Dei on Friday night, the reasons will likely hit close to home.
In a strange twist, two of the San Gabriel Valley’s most talented players won’t be in uniform for Bishop Amat, but Mater Dei, instead. And the question on a lot of people’s minds is how did these two get away. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at the Santa Ana Bowl.
When Mater Dei throws on Friday night, the Monarchs will likely target 6-foot-5 receiver Andre Collins Jr., who doesn’t live anywhere near Orange Country. Nope, Collins Jr. lives in Hacienda Heights.
And protecting the Monarchs’ quarterback so that he can get Collins Jr. the ball is USC-bound offensive tackle Frank Martin II, who lives in West Covina. Both Collins and Martin have been carpooling to Santa Ana since their freshmen year.
“I think it’s unnecessary, but I don’t think it’s weird,” Bishop Amat head coach Steve Hagerty said when asked whether it was strange to have two standouts from Amat’s talent pool playing for Mater Dei. “There’s always kids that are doing that. I think it’s been going on for a while. I don’t think traveling to school is an issue. I think they’re looking for the best fit.”
“I saw the Martin kid around our place a few times. He always in a USC shirt. As far as I knew, he was interested in Bishop Amat and then the next thing I know, he’s at Mater Dei.”
Forget about Amat, why didn’t Martin go to West Covina, which was coming off a dominant showing in the CIF playoffs when he was entering high school.
“His dad went to school here and graduated right when I started coaching,” West Covina head coach Mike Maggiore said. “I did not know he had a kid and his kid was 6-4 or 6-5. But a couple kids told me there’s a big kid in West Covina and they didn’t know where he’s going to go. In this case, it turned out to be a high-level Division 1 prospect. But I don’t feel like we ever had a chance. He never came over to look at our school.
“It’s definitely disappointing. Just seeing any kid that lives in your city but doesn’t want to come to your school, it is disappointing. I think it would be more disappointing for a public school. But for a kid to travel that distance, it’s almost like they don’t really trust what you’re doing. In my opinion, the kid could have been a high-level Division 1 prospect at any school he played at.”
Although neither Collins or Martin wound up as Hagerty’s responsibility, they will both certainly be his problem on Friday night. Collins appears on the cusp of a breakout season and will be tough to cover given his frame. Martin should be quite an issue for an Amat defensive line that is dealing with injury and suspension.
By Aram Tolegian
High expectations and El Monte High School never used to be found in the same sentence.
For far too long, the Lions were an area also-ran. The playoffs were a rare occurrence and you can forget about winning the Mission Valley League championship. But all of that has changed.
As the dawn of a new season beckons, the Lions are thinking big. League championship big. Prolonged playoff run big. The culture change that head coach Joel Sanchez so badly wanted has finally materialized.
“People want to play,” Sanchez said. “They want to be a part of it. It’s fun. Once the kids buy in, they’re 100-percent sold. We matter. We’re not just an afterthought like we used to be. You love us or hate us, it is what it is.”
After being a doormat for so long, El Monte broke through in 2011. The Lions won a share of the Mission Valley League championship for the first time since the late 1970s and followed it with their first playoff win in as many years when they edged Montebello in a last-second thriller.
What was thought to be a once-in-a-generation team back in 2012 has actually proven to be a catalyst. Sure, El Monte followed that season by winning only one game in 2013. But last year, the Lions bounced back, won six games and finished second in league.
With so many key players back from last year’s team, El Monte is once again a legitimate league title contender. The Lions have some of the top skill players around in running back Roy Barajas and quarterback Edward Dominguez.
“I wasn’t pressing the panic button,” Sanchez said about the 2013 season. “But it was tough. It was one of those dark years. I think we just go through a little dry spell here and there and that was one of them. People thought we had our big year and now we’re done, but I knew we’d be okay.”
The reason why Sanchez can be so confident that things will always turn around is because his program now has a foundation under it. Sanchez, an El Monte graduate in 1997 before going on to play linebacker at Azusa Pacific University, knows exactly what type of student athlete he’s working with because he was once a El Monte football player himself.
Then there’s what Sanchez calls “the little things.” It’s not uncommon to see the Lions football players jogging around town in their cammoflauge shorts while stopping at local businesses and city buildings to get acquainted with what they hope are their fans.
El Monte traditionally rocks some of the best spirit pack gear around, affordable only by extensive fund raising. But Sanchez wants his players to look the part and the kids are all too happy to wear it.
The team barbecues steaks on Fridays for team meals and often has offseason barbecues just because. There’s also a popular trip to Mammoth Lakes made every summer for just the team captains and coaches. Once far from home, the captains and coaches lay out their goals for the upcoming season.
Sanchez has seen those goals change through the years from things like beating rival South El Monte to winning the league championship. This year, the big desire is to beat Rosemead, which is the defending league champ and has owned El Monte recently.
“The expectations are a lot higher,” Sanchez said. “I told them they can be that team that gets to the second or third round. But I think them knowing what we’re capable of, it definitely helps.”
On Friday, Montebello will come to El Monte looking to spoil the party. The Oilers may not have any players who played in that heartbreaking 2012 loss, but the coaching staff definitely remembers. Sanchez knows opening the season with a team like Montebello can send a big message, win or lose.
“I tell the kids it’s like a playoff game,” Sanchez said of Friday’s game. “We’re playing a team that’s going to be in the playoffs and is going to compete. And we’re going to get smacked in the face. I told the kids that Montebello is going to come out swinging. They’re not going to be soft.”