Everyone pointed to Sergio Beltran.
When the Daily Journal made its preseason rounds to assess the varsity football talent around San Mateo County, the Menlo Knights made it really easy to pick a poster boy for their burgeoning playoff candidate for the Central Coast Section. Regardless of the talent that would take them to the CCS title game, every finger of every player we asked pointed to their senior quarterback.
Beltran proved to be worthy of the respect and admiration of his teammates. Leading Menlo to a 12-1 record, he won a total of 4,680 yards — 1,101 on the ground and 3,579 through the air — while breaking the CCS record with 52 touchdown passes per year. Because of this, Beltran has also earned the respect of our publication as the Daily Journal Football Player of the Year.
“I didn’t expect this, because I could throw so many touchdowns,” said Beltran. “But last year I kind of knew that this team would score a lot. … I knew we would be successful. I just didn’t know it would be at this level.”
It was impossible to predict what would happen in 2021. Beltran had had a turbulent high school football career until then, missing as many games as he played. This was due in part to the 2020 pandemic season, in which Menlo managed to play five games on the shortened 2021 spring schedule. But he also missed his freshman season due to injury, before his sea legs hit the junior varsity level as a sophomore. found.
Beltran’s confidence heading into his senior season, however, was well founded. Along with sophomore head coach Todd Smith, the Menlo Varsity coaching staff boasted offensive coordinator Austyn Carta-Samuels, a former CCS contender himself during his quarterback days with Bellarmine, before going on to a standout NCAA Division I career in Wyoming and Vanderbilt.
Carta-Samuels provided a high-octane attack at Menlo—often a source of controversy for scoring opponents—but was also known for his ingenuity and inventiveness. Take Beltran’s 42nd touchdown pass of the season October 29 at Carlmont. The 20-yard fade to receiver Tyler Flynn in the corner of the end zone broke the CCS regular-season touchdown record was a play Carta-Samuels set up in the middle of the second quarter scoring run.
“He could make up plays for us on the spot,” Beltran said. “It was a very flexible offensive system. … He saw something he could take advantage of, and it worked perfectly. So we all trusted him.”
Menlo’s recurring airstrike was a strategy that begged to be instituted this season. Not only did the Knights have a quarterback in Beltran with a strong arm, a sharp football IQ and a knack for always spotting throws, the team was particularly deep in the receiving corps, leaving Beltran with an unnecessary set of goals. . . The spoils of wealth were highlighted by a 6-1 senior wide from Carter Jung, Beltran’s favorite target.
Here’s some interesting baseball about Menlo football. Four years ago, when this season’s batch of seniors arrived on campus, Jung initially didn’t make it to the roster. Prior to high school, Jung had played some flag football, but the leap to tackle football was almost a bridge too far.
Then the then freshman Beltran made perhaps his first MVP move for the Menlo program. He wanted to convince not only Jung, but also Ben Banatao – who would become another consistent receiving target as a senior in 2021.
“I remember going to high school trying to convince all my friends to play soccer in high school,” Beltran said. “Especially at a small school like Menlo, we have to get boys playing to have enough songs.”
Beltran himself already had a wealth of playing experience. He started playing Pop Warner Youth Football in the fourth grade with the Redwood City 49ers and was immediately drawn to quarterback. He wasn’t “the guy” on those RWC 49ers teams, he said. He dedicates that honor to Malakai Hoeft, who was a senior force at Serra this season.
But as his teammates noted on that day of the preseason in 2021, Beltran was definitely “the man” this season. And it was a responsibility he gladly took on.
“I feel like I can often deliver clutch plays for my team when we need them,” said Beltran. “I feel like we all have that factor… but if they need me to be that guy, I can be that guy.
Beltran proved his mettle again and again, both with his legs and with his arm. While Menlo didn’t have nearly as many running plays in his playbook as pass plays, the Knights only had four basic rushing plays designed for running backs. All other groundworks were left to Beltran, who kept the subordinates honest with his persistent running legs.
This was just more of an opportunity to be ‘the man’.
“I like pressure,” Beltran said. “Just being able to perform with everyone else looking at you, I feel like I’m doing that right. And I’m honored that my team trusts me so much because I know I can take care of them.”
The pressure only increased in the late season. And this only helped Beltrans to sharpen its already historic performance.
The regular season ended with a playoff atmosphere, with Menlo beating neighboring Sacred Heart Prep in an 18-15 thriller of a Valpo Bowl rivalry game. It was the first time in five years that the knights defeated their arch-rival. It also set a perfect 10-0 record over the regular season slate, making the 2021 Knights the first team in program history to finish the regular season undefeated.
Then came the march to the CCS Division II Championship game. In the November 13 postseason opener at Cartan Field, Menlo dismantled Half Moon Bay for a 47-28 win. Beltran threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more in that game. Then in the CCS semifinals, the Knights won a 44-35 shootout at San Benito-Hollister, with Beltran throwing for three TDs, breaking the overall CCS record for touchdown passes in one season with a score of 63 yards to Sam scola.
The semi-final appearance also provided Beltrans favorite highlight of the year, a wild rollout that showcased the hybrid weapon, its combination of running legs and throwing arm. In a wild back-and-forth scoring affair, Menlo held on to a 37-35 lead and faced a third and long time. Beltran fell back and had to scramble to the left, but couldn’t find an open receiver. So he turned and rolled to the right, toward Menlo’s sideline, where he saw junior Charlie King 20 yards away.
“I remember watching the movie and hearing the sidelines go crazy as I clambered out of the bag,” Beltran said.
Beltran hit King for the first down. In the next game, Beltran delivered a 30-yard scoring pass to Scola to seal the Knights’ journey to the CCS Championship game.
Menlo’s fourth all-time CCS title final ended in a 54-20 loss to Wilcox-San Jose, leaving the Knights with an unanswered 0-4 record in section championships. But the mark Beltran left on Menlo’s football program and CCS record book – after a long season with a grueling workload – was like no other.
“Yes, I was exhausted,” Beltran said. “But I also knew that I gave everything. So it was really a happy outlet. ”