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2022 FOOTBALL PREVIEW – Artesia’s latest head coach faces new challenges with smaller team

July 28, 2022

By Loren Kopff• @LorenKopff on Twitter

 

ARTESIA PIONEERS

2-9 overall last season, 2-1 in the 605 League, second place, lost to Rialto High 40-28 in the Division 14 first round playoffs

20-27 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Nate Hollister (first season)

Lost 12 seniors out of 40 players from 2021 roster

Last time missed the playoffs: 2017

2022 schedule

Aug. 19           BYE

Aug. 26           Garden Grove (7-4 overall last season)

Sept. 2            @ Santa Paula (4-6)

Sept. 9            Marquez (5-5)

Sept. 16          Valley Christian (7-3)

Sept. 23          @ Los Amigos (4-6)

Sept. 30          @ Viewpoint (4-5)

Oct. 7              Westminster (8-3)

Oct. 13            @ Cerritos (5-6)

Oct. 20            @ John Glenn (3-7)

Oct. 27            Pioneer (1-9)

After five seasons at the helm of the Artesia High program, former head coach Don Olmstead, gives way to Nate Hollister, who was the quarterback coach and passing game coordinator at Wilmington-based Banning High last season. This will be the second time Hollister has been a head coach at the varsity level. In 2019, he was at Rancho Dominguez Prep where the Lobos went 1-8. But then COVID-19 hit and wiped out the entire program completely. He added that to this date, RHP still doesn’t have a football program. Hollister has also been the junior varsity coach at Banning and Mary Star of the Sea High.

While Hollister isn’t completely knowledgeable of the Artesia program, he has kept an eye on the Pioneers because they are a local school in terms of where he lives, and he likes to see what happens with local teams.

“It is a challenge,” said Hollister. “Artesia is not notoriously known for football, especially coming from Banning where football is king, and at Artesia, basketball is king. Some of the challenges out there facing these kids is getting the kids to kind of buy in to the new culture. We’ve cut a few kids just because they said the work was a little too hard and they’re not used to it. But I still have a great group of young guys [who are here] that will show up every day.”

When one looks at the 2022 Artesia football team, it will notice the team is very young. While the Pioneers have 19 returning players from last season, they will have five freshmen and five sophomores out of a squad of 26 players.

Hollister remembered having 18 players on his Rancho Dominguez Prep team when the season started and when the season had ended, there were 32 players. He believes he will be picking up players throughout the season and will always welcome those who are interested.

His expectations for this season are to win at least five games but believes the Pioneers are an eight-win team. If the team can stay healthy, Hollister says Artesia can make a deep run in the postseason.

OFFENSE

Artesia struggled to score in its 2-9 campaign of last season, losing its first six games and never scoring more than 20 points until the 605 League opener against John Glenn High which resulted in a 32-14 victory. This season, Hollister says he is going to run a spread offense, but maybe not as up tempo as a lot of teams run and admitted that Cerritos High will have an idea of what to expect because Cerritos faced Banning last season.

While the program is in its dead period, senior Elijah Johnson seems to be the frontrunner for the starting quarterback job. But also competing for the position is junior Pablo Cruz, who caught 19 passes last season for 259 yards and scored two touchdowns. He also gained 59 yards on the ground with another touchdown.

Hollister says he will use a two-running back offense with senior Foxx Redd and sophomore Julius Padilla as the two who will be asked to carry the load. When he is not playing quarterback, Cruz will be one of the top wide receivers along with senior Raymel Muldrew and junior Ezequiel Kyle Hilario.

The offensive line figures to be one of the strengths of the team with junior left tackle Jonathan Martinez, freshman left guard Gerson Juarez, junior center Chase Adams, senior right guard Daniel Aguilar and either sophomore King Johnson or freshman Maximus Garcia locking down the right tackle spot.

“I know they huddled last year; we’re a no huddle offense now,” said Hollister. “As far as the learning curve, it’s not easy to learn but the speed at which these kids have picked it up…we’ll definitely ready to go week one. I definitely like it; I believe we’ll still be able to put up a good amount of points week in and week out. As long as we stay healthy, we’ll be a really strong offense.”

DEFENSE

The Pioneers allowed 401 points last season and yielded at least 35 points during their opening-season losing streak, then allowed 40 points in their playoff loss. Artesia will run a 4-2-5 defense and anchoring the middle of the defensive line will be senior Da Juan Turner (30 tackles last season) along with Aguilar and Johnson, the latter also spending some time in the secondary.

Muldrew and Redd will be the lone linebackers with juniors Amaree Davis and Jordan McGruder Cruz and Padilla as the defensive backs. Junior Kevin Herrera and freshman Kamari Westley, a transfer from Mississippi, will be at the safety position.

Hollister believes his defense is stronger than his offense right now, but if he had to pick one negative, it would be the lack of depth on the line. However, that problem would be fixed by adding his skilled players at defensive end as opposed to more lineman, he added.

SCHEDULE

The Pioneers will spend their bye when most schools will be playing their first game but will be put to an early test against Garden Grove High, which tied Segerstrom High for the Big 4 League title last season. The Argonauts are also young, and Hollister says his players are treating that game as a revenge game because of last season’s 48-0 loss. After that, Artesia goes on its longest road trip of the season when it faces Santa Paula High before hosting Marquez High. The Pioneers have already seen Marquez this summer in seven on seven competitions.

“It’s a big game and my guys are kind of excited about it,” said Hollister of his season opener. “They lost big to Garden Grove last season and a lot of the guys who played on that team, even the lower level…they have a chip on their shoulder.”

The first three opponents are the same as last season, but at opposite sites while the matchup with Valley Christian High will be a rematch of a 62-20 loss. Before last season, the two area programs had not met in over 25 seasons.

After a pair of road games against new opponents for the Pioneers, they will wrap up the non-league portion against a tough Westminster High team. Artesia has defeated the Lions two out of the last three seasons and this will be the fifth meeting with Westminster since 2010.

“You always want a tough task [before league] because unfortunately, the 605 League isn’t the toughest,” said Hollister. “Part of it is we know Cerritos is our rival; it’s a game we want to win and it’s a game the community wants to win, and we want to be battle-tested going into that game. Westminster was a great choice for us. We already had them scheduled, but it was good that we were able to keep them in that spot and not sooner.”

The game that Artesia has circled on its calendar is the 605 League opener against Cerritos, which defeated the Pioneers 26-13 last season. The teams have split their four 605 League meetings, but before moving into the new league, Artesia had won 13 of the previous 20 affairs.

The winner of that game figures to have a leg up on capturing the league title.

After scoring 46 and 61 points respectively against Pioneer High in the first two meetings as current league members, Artesia edged the Titans 18-17 last season.

HOMECOMING

The practical opponents would be either V.C. or Westminster, and if it were up to him, Hollister would like it will be the latter. The Pioneers defeated John Glenn High 32-14 last season for its homecoming game and has won seven of the past eight homecoming games. The only loss in that stretch came four years ago against Western High, marking the second time since 2002 that Artesia faced a non-league opponent on homecoming night. Since 2002, Artesia is 11-8 in such games.