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2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW : Artesia hopes return of full schedule, new playing field surface can bring team good fortunes

 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

 

ARTESIA PIONEERS

last season 24-22 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Don Olmstead (fifth season, 18-18)

Lost 12 seniors out of 33 players from 2020 roster

Last time missed the playoffs: 2017

2021 schedule

Aug. 20           BYE

Aug. 26           @ Garden Grove (3-3 overall last season)

Sept. 3            Santa Paula (2-3)

Sept. 10          @ Marquez (3-1)

Sept. 17          Western (5-0)

Sept. 24          Estancia (3-3)

Oct. 1              @ Valley Christian (0-0)

Oct. 8              @ Westminster (1-4)

Oct. 15            John Glenn (0-1)

Oct. 22            @ Pioneer (0-2)

Oct. 29            Cerritos (3-1)

Artesia High played in just one game this past spring out of a maximum six that was allowed by the CIF-Southern Section and even though the Pioneers graduated nearly a third of the players who suited up against Cerritos High, they were beginning to build for the future by having 11 juniors, five sophomores and five freshmen on the team. Head coach Don Olmstead was hesitant about even playing one game. But at the same time, he was glad that there were no serious injuries and that the coaching staff was able to get a couple of the seniors some film so they could play at community colleges.

“Last year was all about the seniors in trying to salvage what we could for them,” Olmstead said. “In terms of what we got out of it…I don’t know. A lot of kids didn’t play. We didn’t get anywhere close to that time allotment to be prepared. We said we needed six weeks [to prepare] and we got three and a half. From that standpoint, you start to second guess was it really the safest situation for the kids, not being able to get in the weight room and lift?”

He continued to say that the offseason still hasn’t been a normal offseason because the Pioneers will have nearly five months between their lone game last season and their first game this season in terms of lifting weights and practicing for what figures to be a complete 10-game regular season. Normally, Artesia begins lifting once the season is over in the late fall months, or whenever the season ends, and through the second semester. Once the summer comes around in June, the players are in ‘pretty good physical shape’, in terms of lifting, he added.

“It’s been basically catch up and try to get ahead and I still don’t feel like we’re ahead at this point,” Olmstead said. “We did throw a lot this summer, so that helped us catch up a lot, just from seeing different defenses.”

OFFENSE

When Artesia visited Cerritos on the first day of April, it scored its only touchdown in the first quarter before the Dons reeled off 30 straight points from the second quarter on. The Pioneers do return two starters from last season’s lone contest in senior quarterback K’Len Williams and senior right guard Ivan Lopez while another key senior returning for this season is slot receiver Adrian Martinez. Of those three seniors, Williams is the only skilled player who has played a full season, which was in 2019 and because of the pandemic, Olmstead said the Pioneers lost eight sophomores from that 2019 team who went out of state for various reasons. That team went 4-7 but finished in second place in the 605 League and advanced to the playoffs.

“K’Len is a great kid; I think he’ll do big things for us this year,” Olmstead said. “He’s had a pretty good summer getting back into shape. I think he’ll do fine. Ivan really has gotten a lot stronger. I think he’ll kind of be the leader on the offensive line. He’s going to have to be because he’s the only one with game experience. So, we’re really going to lean on him there. And then Adrian, from a skills standpoint, is the only one with experience. So, he’s going to have to kind of manage the guys on the field and make sure they keep their composure, because we will have a lot of guys that haven’t played football. When you say a team is young, this is the definition of a team being young.”

Williams’ backups will be senior Andrew Foreman, who played a few games as a sophomore, and junior Joshua Peck, who was the backup last season. Olmstead admitted this is the first time he has felt comfortable in the quarterback position because all three are viable options.

The main guys who figure to get the bulk of the carries in the backfield will be senior Erin Moses and junior Foxx Redd. The Pioneers will have some other younger ball carriers, but Olmstead said they still need more time.

The receiving department will be held down by Martinez, juniors Robert Magdaleno and Raymel Muldrew and sophomore Pablo Cruz with potentially five to six other guys in the mix. Besides Lopez, the offensive line will consist of senior guard Kobe Dixon, senior tackles Alejandro Del Villar and Jesse Rodriguez, junior center Daniel Aguilar and junior Avery Towning.

“Depth is always going to be a concern here,” Olmstead said. “The year we went to the CIF finals, it was a concern. The last time we played 11 games and lost to Moreno Valley [in the first round] it was a concern. So, every year it’s a concern; the catch 22 of how do you get the kids tough and physical and ready to play without getting anybody hurt and going down a guy? What I like about this group, specifically on offense, is we don’t have any cancers. They’re all good kids and the attendance has been really good for the majority of camp. I’m excited to get to the real days of football where we have helmets on.”

DEFENSE

Of the 11 starters against Cerritos, Dixon, who was a defensive tackle, senior Nicholas Guerra, who was a linebacker, Del Villar, Martinez, who played safety, Peck, an outside linebacker, and Rodriguez return. Olmstead sees about five to six linebackers to fill in the four spots, probably seven or eight defensive backs to occupy the four spots and five or six linemen competing for the three spots.

Olmstead said the entire offensive linemen will play on the defensive line with junior Da Juan Turner also expected to get some time there while the secondary will consist of Cruz and Magdaleno at cornerback, Martinez and Moses at safety as well as others while Foreman will be one of the outside linebackers with Muldrew expected to find some time there.

“Nick has been awesome all summer,” Olmstead said. “If there is a kid I could pick out who has exceeded all expectations through the summer as far as on the field and off the field, it is Nick. He’s been outstanding, from the leader standpoint to getting us lined up on defense to X, Y and Z, he’s done it all. I think he’ll have a really good year.”

SCHEDULE

If the Pioneers grab one of the two automatic playoff berths given to the 605 League, they will have earned it. Only two non-league opponents had a losing mark this past spring and Valley Christian High opted not to play. Artesia opens the season with Garden Grove High but has not played the Argonauts since 1998. Western High will probably be the toughest opponent, probably because it has outscored Artesia 106-54 in the 2018 and 2019 meetings. On the other hand, the Pioneers have outscored Westminster High 72-31 in its 2018 and 2019 meetings. If Artesia has played the other four non-league opponents, those meetings would have come before 1997.

“I think it will be good,” Olmstead said of the schedule. “One thing that we’ve learned through the course of playing in the 605 League is we want our kids tested early. Especially with the way the CIF is now, those non-league games don’t mean anything. You go in and win league or finish in second place, you’re in the playoffs. For us, it’s kind of getting our kids ready for league and then maybe a push into the playoffs. So, the playoffs really start week eight and go eight, nine and10 whereas the other games are kind of non-league games where we’re trying to figure out where everybody fits.”

Despite enduring its worst loss to Cerritos since Oct. 20, 2000 (38-6), Artesia still maintains a 15-8 advantage since 1998 and a 16-6 advantage over John Glenn High. Potentially, the league title could come down to the last game of the season. And if there was even more incentive to have a stellar season in 2021, the Pioneers replaced the grass surface at Atkins Stadium with field turf. Both end zones feature a red background with the words Artesia, on the south end, and Pioneers in black diamonds with the huge Artesia Pioneers logo at midfield.

“We love it,” Olmstead said. “And I don’t think anybody even realizes how fortunate we are to have it yet. I think when we’ll really see the benefit is after the season when we’re in the offseason and soccer is playing. In the past, we didn’t really have any fields to go play on.”

HOMECOMING

If there is one this season, Artesia’s homecoming game could possibly come in the league opener against Glenn, someone the Pioneers have not hosted for this event since Sept. 30, 2016. That game was a highly entertaining 48-27 victory and marked the third time since 2004 that Artesia has had Glenn as its homecoming opponent. Since 2002, the Pioneers are 10-8 on homecoming night and have scored at least 31 points in four straight homecoming games and six of the last seven.

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