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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
3-7 overall last season, 2-4 in the Suburban League, fifth place
18-32 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Joe Veach (seventh full season, 19-48)
Lost 14 seniors out of 52 players from 2015 opening day roster
Last time made the playoffs: 2008
Aug. 26 Pioneer (7-3 overall last season)
Sept. 2 Magnolia (4-6)
Sept. 9 Rosemead (5-6)
Sept. 16 @ Gahr (3-7)
Sept. 23 @ Bellflower (4-6)
Sept. 30 John Glenn (0-10)
Oct. 7 @ La Mirada (13-3)
Oct. 14 Mayfair (7-4)
Oct. 20 @ Cerritos (1-8)
Oct. 28 Norwalk (5-6)
Nov. 4 BYE
For the past four years and five in the last seven, the Artesia High football team has stayed on the heels of that final automatic California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section divisional playoff spot out of the Suburban League. But a combination of injuries to key players and a lack of depth as opposed to the squads fielded from Bellflower High, La Mirada High, Mayfair High and Norwalk High has kept the Pioneers in fifth or sixth place. However, with an experienced squad and some new playoff groupings and realignments that the CIF-SS made since the end of last season, head coach Joe Veach feels this is the season that Artesia ends its playoff drought that dates back to 2008.
“We were inexperienced in a lot of spots last season,” Veach said. “We had some older guys but they hadn’t played a lot. But what killed us last season was the quarterback position. That’s football; you have to have somebody at that spot and we didn’t do a good job last year at the quarterback from a coaching standpoint or a playing standpoint at all. So, we sputtered a lot offensively and that’s what hurt us.”
Make no mistake, the heart and soul on this side of the ball will come from senior Jordan Benoit, who played in six or seven full games last season, and still managed to rush for over 1,000 yards. Benoit will start as the team’s top running back but will be moved around to play some slot. Junior Xavier Yoakum will also be in the mix, and sophomore Travys Davis, who played a lot last season, will get a lot of time in the backfield and will also play some slot with Benoit.
“He and Jordan, I think, are a very similar,” Veach said of Davis. “Jordan is older and has a little bit more size to him. But Travys is a great athlete and did a great job for us coming in and filling in as a freshman last year. We expect him to be a part of the offense.”
Taking the snaps from under center will be junior Jalani Brown, who was third on the depth chart last season but has not played a lot of football, and sophomore Heder Gladden, who shined last season with the basketball team. Gladden has played a lot of football growing up but hasn’t been with the team as much because of basketball. However, he has been taking more reps towards the end of summer. When put in a passing situation, Brown or Gladden will throw to seniors Andres Covarrubias and Armando Pacheco, junior Greg Soto and sophomore J.J. Pasa, in addition to the three main running backs. Veach added that his goal is to go back to what Artesia has done for years, which is the read option, meaning the quarterback will get a ton of carries.
The offensive line has a lot of veteran players but injuries forced Veach to constantly shift players around in 2015. Leading the way will be senior Jaden Alejo, who played right guard last season, and junior Alex Tovares, who played nine games at left tackle but will move to center this season. Alejo was the only lineman to play all 10 games last season. Senior Patrick Juico started eight or nine games at right tackle and will play at one of the tackle spots again this season. Junior Brandon Logan, who played the last six games of 2015 at left guard, will stay at that position or move to the right side. Junior Ruben Orozco, who started at left tackle in the first game last season when Tovares was injured before playing junior varsity the remainder of the season, will be fighting for that spot.
“We have a good group of guys that got some experience last year on the offensive line,” Veach said. “But keeping those experienced guys healthy…I think, is we have a good set of defensive linemen.”
The Pioneers, who scored 145 points last season and were shutout four times are primed to put up more points in 2016. The four goose eggs put together were the most since 2002.
“My goal this year is not get to a point where we have to give the ball to Jordan 35 times a game,” Veach said. “I don’t think we’ll have to do that this year no matter what. Last year we were just in a spot where that was our best option. I think we have more options, athletically, at different spots.”
Artesia’s defense last season allowed at least 25 points eight times, but Veach believes his team should be better on the line and in the secondary. The line will is slated to be occupied by senior tackles David Montanez and William Suarez, the latter playing on Artesia’s freshman team before moving to Texas, and sophomore end Stanley Monis. The other end spot is still up in the air but Juico, Logan and junior Phoenix Allen might get in there. In the secondary it will be cornerbacks Benoit, Covarrubias and Davis and safeties Pacheco and Soto, as well as Davis sometimes. Whoever is not playing quarterback will also be in the secondary. The area of concern on defense will be with the linebackers, where Yoakum is the only experienced player.
Sophomores Leroy Gladden and Gustavo Gutierrez are other options down the road and if needed, Veach will move some of his other defensive players to this position.
“We’re real thin at linebacker; that’s one of our things right now,” Veach said. “J.J. is going to play a lot at linebacker. We’ve moved Jaden Alejo to linebacker from the defensive line. He played some end last year and he’s one of our leaders on the team, and somebody who we’ve always thought is an athlete.”
The only significant change from last season is replacing Pasadena High with Rosemead High in the third week. After beginning last season with three straight road games, the Pioneers will not be wearing their white jerseys until Sept. 16 and will be hosting six games for the first time since 2013 and fourth time since 1998. Getting off to a fast start is something the Pioneers haven’t done much of. They were 3-1 before league play in 2013 and before that, you have to go back to 2008 to find another 3-1 non-league start.
“We look forward to playing Pioneer because we owe them a little,” Veach said. “That game [last year] was closer than 28-0. It was 14-0 at the half and we did nothing on offense, and that was pretty much the story of the game. Rosemead is one we tried to add to try to get a game with somebody who is similar to us.”
Once league play starts, the Artesia program will still seeking its first victory over Mayfair in over 18 seasons. Bellflower is still a thorn in Artesia’s side with the Pioneers losing two straight and five out of the last seven to the Buccaneers. Last season, Artesia lost to Bellflower 26-20 and is 8-10 against the Bucs since 1998.
“Bellflower is always one for us,” Veach said. “The last few years it seemed like it could have gone either way. That was one of the games last year that really [bugged me]. It was the last game of the season and we lost. It was one of those games that I looked at and said, ‘we should win this game’ and we didn’t.”
Artesia’s homecoming game will be against John Glenn High, the one opponent the Pioneers have had great success against. Last season, Benoit rushed 22 times and scored five touchdowns totaling 273 of his 345 yards at Glenn in a 52-35 victory. Since 1998, the Pioneers have had more than 10 wins against two league teams and Glenn is one of them, going 14-4. This will be the third time Artesia has faced Glenn on homecoming. In 2004, Artesia blasted Glenn 49-7 and just two seasons ago, Artesia flew past the Eagles 48-14. The Pioneers have won their past three homecoming games.
No longer is Artesia in the Southeast Division. The new realignment calls for Artesia to be one of 46 schools now situated in Division 12. The good news for Veach and his program is that the other 45 teams are relatively comparable to Artesia, thus giving the program a better chance of making the playoffs. Veach has heard rumors that maybe five wins will be good enough and if that is the case, then Artesia’s chances of getting into the playoffs will improve. Veach believes his team can win at least five games and as many as six or seven. Three of teams Artesia plays this season are in Division 13.
“We’ll, there are 13 divisions, so they don’t think we’re very good,” Veach said. “That’s one thing that I took from that, and I told the kids that. But you still have to get into the playoffs; that part of it doesn’t change. I like what CIF is doing because it’s not good for anybody to see teams go into the playoffs and lose 50-0 in the first round.”
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