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By Loren Kopff
Sports editor’s note: This is the first of several area football previews that will continue throughout the month. The high school football season begins on Aug. 24, a week earlier than previous seasons.
1-9 last season, 1-5 in the Suburban League, sixth place, 13-38 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Joe Veach (third full season, 2-25)
Lost 14 seniors out of 41 from 2011 opening day roster
Last time made the playoffs: 2008
Aug. 24 Huntington Park (3-7 last season)
Aug. 31 @ Whittier (5-5)
Sept. 7 San Juan Hills (0-10)
Sept. 14 @ Gahr (7-3)
Sept. 21 @ Mayfair (7-4)
Sept. 28 (HC) Norwalk (3-8)
Oct. 5 La Mirada (8-5)
Oct. 12 BYE
Oct. 19 @ Bellflower (7-4)
Oct. 26 @ Cerritos (0-10)
Nov. 2 John Glenn (4-6)
Since going to the playoffs three times in a four-year span in the middle of last decade, the Artesia football program has struggled in many areas, most notably in the numbers department. But the Pioneers had over 40 players when they kicked off last Sept. 2 at Huntington Park, a sign that things may be turning around for the program. Although the Pioneers went 1-9 last season, head coach Joe Veach is optimistic that better results will take place this season.
“One of the biggest things we’ve improved on is just the commitment level from the kids,” Veach said. “We started three years ago with a lot of sophomores. So this year, I think we’re looking to build off of all of that because we have a lot of kids who have played for three years in important spots.”
For the first time in three seasons, the Pioneers will have experience in a lot of the key spots that the past teams haven’t had during the 2-28 days from 2009-2011.
Artesia had a hard time getting going in its games last season, falling behind fast and early. The team scored 194 points and only had two first half touchdowns in its first four games. It wasn’t until the fifth game that the Pioneers reached 20 points, a 53-21 loss at Norwalk in which all of their points were scored before halftime.
Coming back for his season is quarterback Francisco Galan, who passed for 1,354 yards last season and a dozen touchdowns. But he also threw 10 interceptions and did not get a lot of protection from the offensive line. Galan figures to be one of the Suburban League’s top signal callers.
“The record hasn’t shown it; he’s won one game as a starting quarterback,” Veach said. “But if you watch the games or studied the films, there are times where he has to catch it [from under center] and get rid of it in the blink of an eye because we haven’t been able to protect him. But he’s really grown as a quarterback, as a football player and as a kid, too.”
Backing up Galan will be senior Jeremy Gaskin, who touched the ball a lot as both a running back and a receiver, where he combined for 338 yards and three touchdowns.
The Pioneers rushed for 1,032 yards last season but didn’t have anyone get over 350 yards, which was achieved by Galan. Expect the running game to be vastly improved with juniors Manny Rivera, whom Veach says will be the team’s top running back, Tytus Simmons and Jose Soto plus sophomore Christian Rodriguez leading the way. Rodriguez had a breakout game last season against John Glenn when he rushed for133 yards on seven carried and scored on a 45-yard burst. When he’s not rushing the ball, Rodriguez, who Veach believes can be the best player in the league, will be one of many slot plays catching the ball.
“He’ll be moved around a lot,” Veach added. “We want to hand [the ball] off to him and we want to throw to him.”
Artesia will have more depth in the slot than at wide receiver but still, seniors Jason Latchison-Bullard, Richard Randall and Gaskin are the top throwing threats. The offensive line, which struggled last season, returns four players in senior right tackle Daniel Hernandez, who was the team’s defensive player of the year last season, junior left tackle Lene Lauti, junior center Fidel Palomo and junior right guard David Garibay. The left guard spot remains open with senior Tionte Woods and juniors Nick Hernandez, Wvaldo Juarez and Jorge Torres in the mix.
“Last year and the year before, it seemed like to score, we had to put 12 to 15 plays together because we would catch the ball and get tackled [immediately],” Veach said. “We were getting yards at a real short clip. This year, I think we have a lot more threats on the outside and a lot more talent athletically.”
As much as the offense struggled last season in the first part of the season, the defense had troubles all season long. Only once did the Pioneers hold an opponent to under 10 points and the team allowed over 40 points seven times, including a stretch of six straight games. This season, Veach will switch to a 4-3 defense. The line will be anchored by Lauti and Hernandez most of the time with Garibay, Juarez and Torres, among others, being rotated in and out. The secondary will be anchored by Simmons, who played one of the outside linebacker spots last season, Soto and junior Anthony Roldan. Soto had 41 tackles last season, tops by all returning players. The top linebackers will be Latchison-Bullard (30 tackles last season), on the inside, Randall and senior Chino Intal, who will occupy one of the outside positions.
“I think we’ve simplified things,” Veach said. “I think a lot of times in the last couple of years we weren’t confident in our personnel. We tried to make the perfect calls and run the perfect defense every single week for the team we were playing. This year, we focused on, ‘this is the defense we’re going to play’. It’s not going to be very complicated but the kids are going to know exactly what they have to do on every single play.”
The schedule seems to favor Artesia in the early going as its first four opponents did not make the playoffs last season. The Pioneers will seek to avenge a 28-7 loss to Huntington Park and a 54-14 setback to Whittier. San Juan Hills is coached by Aaron Flowers, son of former Artesia head coach Norm Flowers. Veach added that San Juan Hills is much like Artesia was last season. Artesia has lost three straight games to Gahr, at least 14 straight to Mayfair, three straight to Norwalk and four straight to La Mirada. The homecoming game will be against Norwalk. The last time the Pioneers hosted the Lancers on homecoming, it was a 35-0 win on Oct. 13, 2006. Getting to the playoffs will be a little tougher for the Suburban League as now the top three teams will get automatic berths instead of the top four.
“There are a lot of wins on our schedule that are out there if we want to take them,” Veach said. “Something that would be big for us is to have a lot of success this year which we haven’t had the last couple of years. The playoffs are a possibility. If we can get through that tough stretch and can pull a couple of wins out of there, I think that will give us a roll towards the end of the season.”
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