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2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Artesia begins final season in Suburban League with new head coach

 

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

 

ARTESIA PIONEERS

6-4 overall last season, 3-3 in the Suburban League, fourth place

23-27 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Don Olmstead (first season)

Lost 15 seniors out of 44 players from 2016 opening day roster

Last time made the playoffs: 2008

2017 schedule

Aug. 25           BYE

Sept. 1            @ Magnolia (2-8 overall last season)

Sept. 7            @ Rosemead (2-8)

Sept. 15          Gahr (8-3)

Sept. 22          Fountain Valley (1-9)

Sept. 29          Bellflower (2-8)

Oct. 6              @ John Glenn (2-8)

Oct. 13            La Mirada (11-3)

Oct. 20            @ Mayfair (6-5)

Oct. 27            Cerritos (2-7)

Nov. 3             @ Norwalk (7-4)

For the past seven seasons, especially since 2012, former Artesia High head coach Joe Veach has built the Pioneers into the playoff contenders, although the program has not been to the postseason since 2008. Now, Veach has stepped down and former defensive coordinator of the past two seasons, Don Olmstead, takes over the head coaching duties. Olmstead, who overall is in his sixth season with the Pioneers, says the biggest thing with the program is the numbers, which he has seen grow over the past few years. He added that he wants to get more kids involved.

“It’s exciting taking over the program,” Olmstead said. “It’s a new opportunity. Obviously, you hate to see somebody like Veach go, [who] has been through the tough years of Artesia football and got them to where it’s been respectable the last few years. We’re just trying to maintain that and build off that.”

All four losses from last season came to teams that went to the playoffs and Artesia lost all those games by at least two touchdowns. Olmstead said the satisfying part of last season was getting out of the kids what they could. In any other season, the Pioneers make the playoffs because the top four teams used to get automatic berths. But last year, the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section went to a competitive equity divisional alignment and Artesia was on the outside looking in. That could change this season.

OFFENSE

At times, the Pioneers showed they could be explosive, scoring over 25 points six times. Of course, when you have a player like Jordan Benoit, who graduated but rushed for 1,101 yards and scored 21 touchdowns, it’s easy to see why the Pioneers won six games for just the second time since 2008. Now with Benoit gone, the focus will center on junior quarterback Heder Gladden

“I would say that he’s probably a different kid,” Olmstead said. “He’s young; he was a sophomore last year and got thrown into the fire as a freshman playing basketball. As a sophomore, I think he did about what I thought he would do.”

Gladden completed 60 passes in 94 attempts for 803 yards and eight touchdowns. He was also the team’s second leading rusher at 866 yards on 135 carries. His backup would be senior Gustavo Hernandez, who was a wide receiver last season but has played some quarterback in the past.

Senior Xavier Yoakum and junior Travys Davis, who combined for 340 yards last season, will be the primary ball carriers. Olmstead sees the former as a powerful back while Davis is explosive and it’s not out of the realm to see one of them eclipse the 1,00-yard barrier.

The Pioneers will have a receiver by committee format with senior Greg Soto, who will play more out of the slot, juniors Marcel Bowman, Leroy Gladden and De’Jon Major as the key guys. Leroy Gladden played linebacker last season but probably has one of the best sets of hands on the team, according to Olmstead and Major played cornerback last season.

Playing left tackle will be a platoon between seniors Carlos Gonzales and Brandon Logan, both of whom played tackle last season. However, it’s likely that Gonzales will be the main guy at right tackle. Left guard will be occupied by senior Ruben Orozco and the new coach believes he’s one that will surprise a lot of people because he hasn’t reached his potential. The rest of the line will be returning center Alex Tovares (senior) and right guards Phoenix Allen (senior) and Samson Monis (junior). Olmstead said his linemen are all interchangeable.

“It’s going to be tough losing Jordan,” Olmstead said. “On the field and off the field, he’s just a good kid, and you like being around him. That’s the hard part; you lose a good football player but he’s a really good kid. But I think we’ll be a little more physical than last year and Xavier will bring us a little more power in the backfield.”

DEFENSE

Senior Stanley Monis, a three-year starter, anchors the defensive line and is currently slated to be on the end, but may be moved to inside linebacker depending on need. He led the Pioneers last season with 47 tackles and tied for the team lead with two sacks. Samson Monis will be the nose guard while seniors Isaiah Cardenas and Isaac Misilegalu will compete at the other end spot. Olmstead believes the line will be stronger than what the Pioneers have had the past few seasons.

In the secondary, Davis (safety), Major (cornerback) and Soto (strong safety) return while Heder Gladden could see some time either at one of the safety spots once Artesia figures out its backup quarterback situation. Junior Demarco Burton is another player who could play cornerback or safety.

While the line and the secondary seem to be the strengths of the defense, the same can’t be said in the linebacker department where some of the younger players are pushing the older ones. Olmstead says there are seven players who are vying for that position with sophomores Chris Decasas and Laquan Ware most likely getting the middle and strong sides respectively. Leroy Gladden and Yoakum (65 tackles, two sacks), who is expected to be the weakside linebacker, bring some experience. Junior Josh Mageo, according to Olmstead, is the best-looking kid that they have.

SCHEDULE

Last season, the Pioneers had three straight home games to begin the campaign. This season, Artesia won’t be home until the middle of September for the beginning of three straight home encounters. Fountain Valley High is a new foe while the Pioneers hope for a home and home sweep against Magnolia High and Rosemead High.

“Magnolia is a two-year contract, so we can’t really get out of that one,” Olmstead said. “The predicament we have this year was [having] our bye week on week zero or our bye week on week four. We always have issues at the end of summer anyway because parents are always [going] on vacation. So, we just pushed it back but it worked out good. Essentially, our preseason for me, is going to be, ‘go out there and just see what we can do’. Now knowing how the CIF structure is, our preseason really doesn’t have anything to do with it. You just have to get one of those three automatic bids in our league.”

Artesia won five of its first six games in 2016 with the one loss in that stretch coming to Gahr High. The Pioneers have lost three straight games to the Gladiators, scoring 33 points in those games. Once Suburban League begins, the Pioneers are hoping to end a long losing slide to Mayfair High that now stands at least 19 years long. This is the final season the Pioneers will be in the Suburban League and, unless they meet in the playoffs, the last time they will play Bellflower High (9-10 against since 1998), La Mirada High (2-17), Mayfair and Norwalk High (6-13)

“I think any win in our league this year is going to be considered a steal,” Olmstead said. “One, everybody is not too happy with us because we’re leaving the league. So, some teams are going to try and put it on us, which is fine. But I think every win is going to be a steal. The way I always look at it is we have to beat Mayfair, Norwalk or Bellflower. We have to beat two of those three. If we can beat a Cerritos and a Glenn, then that puts us in there.”

HOMECOMING

The last two times the Pioneers have hosted Cerritos High, it has been their homecoming game and has resulted in victories. Artesia has won four straight homecoming games. The Pioneers are 12-7 against the Dons since 1998 including 6-3 at home.

DIVISION 12

Artesia remains in Division 12 and will play six opponents who are in Division 10 or lower. Rosemead is the only divisional opponent for the Pioneers while Magnolia, Cerritos and John Glenn High are in Division 13. According to the new computer modules, Artesia is ranked 275th out of 398 schools in the Southern Section that field football teams and is 1.73 points away from being grouped in Division 11. There are 45 schools in Division 12 vying for 16 playoff positions. “It’s always exciting when you take over something new,” Olmstead said. “Like I said before, Veach put us in a good spot, so we’re just trying to continue that and grow on it. I think getting into the playoffs is a huge hurdle that we’ve been kind of knocking on the door of. And just getting over that hump is going to get us to the next level.”

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