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2013 FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Artesia aims for one of Suburban League’s top spots while Gahr figures to be young

By Loren Kopff

Sports editor’s note: This is the first of several area football previews that will continue throughout the rest of the month.

ARTESIA PIONEERS
4-6 overall last season, 3-3 in the Suburban League, tied for fourth place, 13-38 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Joe Veach (fourth full season, 6-31)
Lost 11 seniors out of 37 from 2012 opening day roster
Last time made the playoffs: 2008

2013 schedule
Aug. 30 Millikan (0-10 overall last season)
Sept. 6 Los Angeles Jordan (0-8)
Sept.12 @ San Juan Hills (7-3)
Sept. 20 Gahr (5-5)
Sept. 27 Mayfair (4-6)
Oct. 4 (HC) Cerritos (0-10)
Oct. 11 @ Norwalk (9-3)
Oct. 18 BYE
Oct. 25 Bellflower (6-5)
Nov. 1 @ John Glenn (2-8)
Nov. 8 @ La Mirada (10-2)

Artesia ended last season on a three-game winning streak, one being a forfeit victory, and scored 82 points in the process. But the Pioneers were also two points away from beating Mayfair, which probably cost the team a trip to the playoffs. Still, head coach Joe Veach believes that the final few weeks of last season was a springboard for this season and the 2013 squad could very well be the best team he has had at Artesia.
“Last year we ended on a great note,” Veach said. “Since I’ve been here at Artesia, it always seems like we finish [the season] playing our best football of the year. It takes us a little bit to get going; to find our groove. This year we’re trying to not reverse that; we don’t want to end playing bad. But we really emphasize to the kids to come out of the gates playing great football.”

OFFENSE
The offense scored 43 more points, in nine games, than it did in a 10-game campaign 2011, Of the 237 points scored, 105 were produced in the first half alone in the first eight games and the Pioneers scored on their first drive in the first three games. The biggest loss comes at the quarterback position with Francisco Galan having graduated. But Veach plans to throw a twist in the offensive attack by having junior star running back Cristian Rodriguez take some snaps from under center. When he’s not, juniors Jaydon Logan, who missed all summer, and Jimmy Rodriguez will compete for the starting spot. Cristian and Jimmy Rodriguez took all of the reps during the summer.
But make no mistake, running the ball will be the strong point in Artesia’s offense, highlighted by Cristian Rodriguez who rushed for 760 yards as a sophomore. Only Galan had more yards in 2012.
“Last year towards the second half of the season, we realized that we can run the ball much more successfully than we could throw the ball,” Veach said. “And it wasn’t a quarterback issue. I think last year it was more of a receiver issue. We didn’t have a lot of experience in receivers.”
Also in the backfield will be seniors Jose Soto, coming back from a separated left shoulder, and Manny Rivera and junior Vincent Brown, who was used more as a running back last season and whom Veach says ‘could turn things around’. A quartet of seniors will be the leading targets for the quarterbacks-Isaiah Benoit, Troy Daniels, Anthony Roldan and Tytus Simmons. Veach added that he would like his slot receivers and running backs to be interchangeable.
“I’ve always thought that the biggest improvement you see in a high school football player is from their sophomore to their junior year,” Veach said. “That’s how I felt about myself when I played. If you can have some success as a sophomore, that’s great. But if not, you really know who’s going to be a player when they’re a junior. That should scare people about Cristian. There are a lot of possibilities for him.”
The offensive line is well experienced with senior Lene Lauti at the left tackle spot, seniors Abraham Chavez and Wvaldo Juarez battling at left guard, senior Fidel Palomo at center, senior David Garibay or Chavez at right guard and senior Sean Manlapaz or Juarez at right tackle.
Veach says the team is not going to throw as much even though running typically leads to fewer points scored because of clock management. But the Pioneers will be more explosive running the ball than last year.

DEFENSE
After allowing over 500 points in 2010 and 433 in 2011, the Pioneers yielded 323 last season despite giving up 40 or more points four times. With six seniors battling for five spots on the offensive fine, whoever is left out will definitely start on the defensive line. Also in the mix will be junior Enoka Sautia. The secondary is solid with Daniels and Simmons as the safeties, Rivera and Roldan as the cornerbacks and Logan, Cristian Rodriguez, Jimmy Rodriguez and senior Jordan Bumpas rounding out the unit.
Benoit and Soto move from the secondary to be outside linebackers while Brown will be another outside linebacker with junior Devon King holding down an inside linebacker spot.
“This defense, with so many guys coming back…we’ve really simplified things from what we did years ago,” Veach said. “We had such a lack of talent in 2010 that we tried to line up the perfect defense every single game. The following year, we said let’s simplify it and create an identity. And we did and we saw things start to change.”

SCHEDULE
The schedule early on favors Artesia with a pair of games against winless teams of 2012. Artesia will hope to avenge a 38-13 loss to Aaron Flowers and San Juan Hills in the second week. Due to a twist in the Suburban League schedule, Artesia visits Mayfair for a second straight season but will host La Mirada for a second straight encounter. Homecoming is against Cerritos and the last time that happened, the Dons came away with a 27-20 victory.
“I really haven’t thought about going into league what I want our record to be,” Veach said. “I just want us to play good football and get better every single game that we play. Right now we’re worried about lining up and playing Millikan.”
Veach says all 10 games will be circled because each one presents a different incentive to win. Artesia will be looking to defeat Gahr and win the coveted Milk Barrel for the first time since 2008. The Pioneers are winless against Mayfair in over 15 years and have a winning record against one league team since 1998, that being John Glenn with an 11-4 mark.

GAHR GLADIATORS
5-5 overall last season, 2-3 in the San Gabriel Valley League, fourth place, 28-23 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Greg Marshall (11th season, 58-46)
Lost 22 seniors out of 56 from 2012 opening day roster
Last time made the playoffs: 2009

2013 schedule
Aug. 30 Lakewood (8-3 overall last season)
Sept. 6 @ Narbonne (14-1)
Sept. 13 Cerritos (0-10)
Sept. 20 @ Artesia (4-6)
Sept. 27 La Habra (8-4)
Oct. 4 BYE
Oct. 10 Warren (0-10)
Oct. 18 @ Paramount (8-3)
Oct. 25 (HC) Downey (11-3)
Nov. 1 @ Dominguez (6-6)
Nov. 8 @ Lynwood (3-7)

After going 7-3 but missing the playoffs in 2011, the Gladiators stumbled to a 5-5 mark for the second time in three seasons and fourth since 2006. The departure of over 20 seniors to graduation was just the beginning of what might be a very long season for head coach Greg Marshall. For the first time ever, he is having freshmen compete for spots on the varsity squad and as of the middle of August, the team has more freshmen and sophomores combined than juniors and seniors put together.
“It was disappointing because we had a [big] senior squad,” Marshall said of last season. “But we had some intangibles. We had a new quarterback and we didn’t know how he would perform. I’m not blaming the season on him but we didn’t perform to our expectations. Offensively we struggled quite a bit in the big games. It’s been that way for the last three years. In the big games, we’re not scoring points.”

OFFENSE
The scoring tailed off tremendously last season from previous campaigns, scoring 281 points. And, in all five losses, the team scored 13, 14, seven, five and three points respectively. Gahr will have a new, unproven quarterback as junior Will Latham, who was a wide receiver last season, sophomore Nico Lopez and freshman Kobee Lagarde, a transfer from Long Beach Cabrillo High, are all battling for the starting spot. Latham will be more of a running quarterback and as of now, is the leading candidate to get the starting nod. It will be a big change from the past as Gahr has had just one quarterback, for the most part, with little to no competition to deal with.

Junior Taylor Williams and sophomore Jacob Green will be the top two guys in the backfield while junior Leotis Johnson III will get some time handling the pigskin.
Gahr took a major hit when senior Christian Pabico, who led the team with 837 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, transferred to Long Beach Poly. When he’s not under center, Latham, who caught for 520 yards last season, will be used as one of the receivers. The other returning top receiver is junior Andre Casillas. Sophomores Keynin Charbonnet Pounds, Justin Garrett and De’Jah Pickett will also be in the mix and all three had good summers according to Marshall.
”It’s going to look somewhat like last year but we’re going to have more multiple motions and shifts; some of the stuff we did four years ago,” Marshall said. “We’re going to try to mix it up a little offensively. Hopefully in those big games, we’ll manage more points. We’re definitely going to get back to running our fly and get some play action back in our offense.”
The big concern on offense will be up front where only junior Troy Orozco returns as a starter. A right tackle last season, Orozco will move two spots to his left this season. Seniors Jose Diaz and Roy Martinez will most likely be the guards while junior Marcus Kelly is slated to be one of the starting tackles.

DEFENSE
While the offense will be very young, Marshall believes the strength of the team will be the defense, which allowed 237 points last season with five games of yielding no more than 21 points. Senior Rufus Gray and junior Ryan Bolanos return on the line while senior Keileen Hubbard and junior Christopher Rodriguez, who both saw some time at the end of last season, are two linemen that Marshall is counting on. At linebacker will be seniors Christian Bustos, Raymond Mosley, who had 24 tackles and a team-high five sacks last season, Bolanos and Williams. The secondary will be anchored by Johnson, who was a strong safety last season but will play free safety this season, Latham and Pickett, who will be the cornerbacks.
“The defense has outplayed the offense the last couple of years,” Marshall said. “The offense has put up a lot of points but no wins. I think defensively we’ve gone out there and did our job.”

SCHEDULE
Gahr’s schedule might be the toughest that Marshall has had in his 11 seasons and it all starts with a rematch against Lakewood, which blasted the Gladiators 38-13 in Week Zero last season. It goes from bad to worse when the Gladiators travel to defending Los Angeles City Section champion Narbonne, which lost to Corona Centennial in the Open Division state title game. Narbonne outscored its opponents 622-143 last season which included a 56-0 win over Long Beach Poly and a 61-6 victory over Lakewood. Gahr also has to deal with defending Southeast Division champion Downey on homecoming night.
“Lakewood has a new coach and they’re trying to find themselves,” Marshall said. “Who knows what they’re going to look like in the first game. I thought we played pretty well against them last year.”
Since returning to the San Gabriel Valley League in 2006 after four seasons of being a freelance team, the Gladiators have gone 17-18 in league action with two wins against Dominguez and one win against Downey.

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