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Artesia hopes for a turnaround season with younger, less experienced squad

2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW

By Loren Kopff

ARTESIA PIONEERS

4-6 overall last season, 2-4 in the Suburban League, fifth place, 15-35 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Joe Veach (sixth full season, 16-41)

Lost 13 seniors out of 47 from 2014 opening day roster

Last time made the playoffs: 2008

2015 schedule

Aug. 27 @ Pioneer (1-9 overall last season)

Sept. 4 @ Magnolia (5-6)

Sept. 11 @ Pasadena (4-6)

Sept. 18 Gahr (3-7)

Sept. 24 @ John Glenn (2-8)

Oct. 2 La Mirada (9-2)

Oct. 9 @ Mayfair (5-6)

Oct. 16 (HC) Cerritos (1-8)

Oct. 23 @ Norwalk (7-4)

Oct. 30 BYE

Nov. 6 Bellflower (7-3)

To say that the 2014 Artesia football team had a golden chance of a postseason trip would be an understatement. Head coach Joe Veach, whose tenure with the Pioneers is currently the second longest amongst current Suburban League coaches with their respective teams, saw his team play well in most of the games. The problem was it was hardly for a complete four-quarter game. Artesia would be good for one quarter, one half, or three quarters, but not for a full game.

“I think we could have very easily been 8-2,” Veach said. “I look at our record last year and I see…we lost a game to Gahr in which we led in the fourth quarter. We lost to Bellflower in which we did not play in the first half at all, and in the second half came out and played and got it close.

“I don’t think the record was really indicative of who we were,” Veach added. “But maybe it was because we couldn’t finish games in the second half.”

Artesia saw a 17-14 lead against Gahr with 12 minutes to play evaporate into a 35-17 loss. Two weeks later, the Pioneers were tied with Mayfair at the half before the Monsoons scored 21 third quarter points to run away with the win. A 17-14 halftime lead against Norwalk turned into a 34-20 loss. Now, the Pioneers embark on a new season that will feature more sophomores than seniors.

OFFENSE

Artesia averaged close to 24 points a game last season, however did not score more than 21 points in any of its six losses. Veach pointed out what could be the statistic of this season, which is the fact that the team returns only one player who scored an offensive touchdown last season, and that came from senior Taylor Davis on the opening of the season in a 50-7 loss to Millikan. All of the other touchdowns were scored by 2015 graduates.

The quarterback situation is still up in the air as senior Todd Fahey, a transfer from Fairmont Prep High School, and junior Calvin Stitt, who was on the team last season but did not take a snap from under center, are still battling for the starting spot. Veach said both bring different skills to the table with Fahey much taller at 6’ 4” but Stitt throwing more consistently. One advantage that Stitt has which could play a factor is that he doesn’t play defense.

This will be the first time since 2010 that the Pioneers will not have an established returning quarterback. In 2009, Artesia had then-seniors Montez Hunter and Anthony Johnson play quarterback. The next two seasons, the Pioneers went with Francisco Galan and Jeremy Gaskin. Galan was joined by Cristian Rodriguez and Jimmy Rodriguez in 2012 and the latter two have were the signal callers in 2013 before Jimmy Rodriguez assumed the duties last season.

Davis and junior Jordan Benoit return as the leading backfield candidates but the Pioneers are somewhat stacked in receiving department with senior Jeremy Perry, who might move in to be a slot receiver, and junior Christian Santifer returning. Also in the mix is junior Rian Hughing.

Protecting them on the line will be sophomore left tackle Alex Tovares, senior left guard Ryan Valencia, who was the team’s left tackle last season, senior center Jesus Barrios, who started some games there last season and junior right guard Jaden Alejo, another returner. Junior Patrick Juico and sophomores Carlos Gonzalez and Ruben Orozco, all varsity newcomers, are in the mix for the right tackle position.

DEFENSE

In the four victories last season, Artesia’s defense allowed no more than 24 points. However, in the six losses, it surrendered anywhere from 30-50 points. Senior Sean Davenport, who played center last year and senior Pablo Rios, who occupied right tackle in 2014, will headline the defensive line with Rios on the interior. Senior Xavier Robinson is slated to play at defensive tackle with Alejo or Valencia or Alejo at one of the end positions. Veach said that the line could be the strength of the defense.

Perry will play one of the safety spots with sophomore Xavier Yoakum at strong safety. Junior Armando Pacheco and Santifer have also taken reps at safety. Junior Andres Covarubbias, sophomores Michael Ezeanoima and Javier Gonzalez along with Benoit and Hughing are all in line to play cornerback.

Veach says he has five or six guys who he thinks can play linebacker and if the right players can step up, then Fahey could move to defensive end. If not, then Fahey will be on the weak side, which will be key to the team’s success on defense. Senior Mario Ramos and Davenport would also play at Will Linebacker with Davis at the strong side and senior Nick Garcia in the middle. Veach added that Garcia ‘has nothing but effort and enthusiasm and just flies all around the field’.

SCHEDULE

Despite being on the road for four of its first five games, the Pioneers schedule early on sets up very promising on paper. Artesia has the potential to go 5-0 based on the combined 15-36 record of those opponents. However, that is the farthest thing on Veach’s mind.

“I’m not really thinking about 5-0,” Veach said. “We want to get the first one. We’re focused on getting better every day here and then when we get to Pioneer week, we’ll start to focus on Pioneer. I really haven’t looked at the schedule past that.”

Pioneer will be a new opponent for Artesia and the Titans will be christening their renovated football stadium. The Pioneers nearly doubled up Magnolia last season and knocked off Pasadena by 11 points a week later. Artesia is 6-10 against Gahr since 1998 but once it gets into Suburban League action, the Pioneers hope to snap a long losing streak against Mayfair that spans at least 17 seasons. Artesia has won 13 of its past 17 games against John Glenn and will have Cerritos as its homecoming opponent for the fourth time since 2007.

Veach added that even though the 2015 team is less experienced with much less talent than last season’s team, it could very easily equal the win total of last season. But he expects to surpass four wins and says the Pioneer game will be a good matchup. He continues by saying that he expects his team to challenge for a playoff spot as the league’s outlook is up in the air once you get past league favorite La Mirada. Four schools will have first-year head coaches and another one will be in his second season.

“Our goal, first off, is to win our first game,” Veach said. “We want to win our first game because that’s what we work for. Everything that we talk about with the kids at the end of practice every day and again at weight training is that day that we play the first game. The next goal that we have is to win the Milk Jug. After that, it’s getting into league and I don’t say playoffs is our goal or a league championship is our goal.

“I like to just tell them whatever is the best we can do at that point, that’s our goal,” he continued. “When we’re 0-0 in league, our goal should be to win every league game and win a league championship. If we lose a couple or if we lose one, then we need to reevaluate [and ask ourselves] what is our goal.”

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