_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________         EBOOK


2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW Rodriguez back as Artesia hopes to end playoff drought

By Loren Kopff

6-4 overall last season, 3-3 in the Suburban League, tied for fourth place, 12-38 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Joe Veach (fifth full season: 12-35)
Lost 17 seniors out of 44 from 2013 opening day roster
Last time made the playoffs: 2008
2014 schedule
Aug. 28 @ Millikan (5-5 overall last season)
Sept. 5 Magnolia (6-6)
Sept. 12 Pasadena (1-9)
Sept. 19 @ Gahr (3-7)
Sept. 26 @ La Mirada (4-7)
Oct. 3 Mayfair (5-6)
Oct. 10 @ Cerritos (2-8)
Oct. 17 Norwalk (13-1)
Oct. 24 BYE
Oct. 31 @ Bellflower (5-5)
Nov. 7 (HC) John Glenn (0-10)
The Pioneers had their best season in 2013 since going 7-4 five seasons prior. They finished in a tie for fourth place in the Suburban League for the second straight season and had it not been for an injury to senior running back Christian Rodriguez in the third game, Artesia might have ended that playoff drought.
“We were disappointed last year that we didn’t make the playoffs,” said head coach Joe Veach. “That was our goal going into the season; to compete for a league championship, to make the playoffs and to win the Milk Jug. Obviously losing Christian doesn’t help. But when he went down, our goals didn’t change.
“When you look at it in the end, we went from 4-6 to 6-4,” he added. “There were definitely successes in the season. But of our three goals, we only hit one of them.”
But now, Rodriguez is back and healthy. He’s bigger this season and has probably gained about 25 pounds, according to Veach. Look for Rodriguez, who rushed for 275 yards and scored two touchdowns in three games, to be all over the field this season.
In five games last season, the Pioneers scored seven or fewer points in the first half, winning two of those games. Ironically, both of those wins were fourth quarter rallies-against Gahr in the fourth game and against Bellflower in the eighth game. Getting out of the gates quickly will be one telling point in 2014 and it starts with senior quarterback Jimmy Rodriguez, who eventually would have replaced Christian Rodriguez at some point last season. It just came sooner than expected. Jimmy Rodriguez completed 49 of 84 passes and threw for 626 yards and eight scores. He was also the team’s second leading rusher with 457 yards and found the end zone seven times.
Artesia will have more scoring threats this season beginning with Christian Rodriguez, senior running backs Vincent Brown (98 carries, 583 yards, eight touchdowns), Noel Guzman and Jaydon Logan and sophomore Jordan Benoit. Guzman hasn’t played since he was a freshman.
The aforementioned players can also line up in the slot positions Senior Alejandro Guerrero, junior Jeremy Perry and sophomore Christian Santifer are the leading candidates to be wide receivers.
“You always want to come out strong,” Veach said. “Last year, we really focused on wanting to run the ball. We had an experienced line; we had five seniors playing offensive line. We knew we had the chance for big plays but part of our goal was to wear people down.”
The one concern on this side of the ball will be on the line where juniors Sean Davenport (center) and left tackle Ryan Valencia, along with sophomore right guard Jaden Alejo are penciled in. The other two spots are up for grabs. All five starting linemen from last season graduated. The line will be very short in size, but again, Artesia will have more home run hitting guys, as Veach put it, this year which should produce a lot of points.
The defense allowed nearly 300 points last season and gave up 48 to San Juan Hills, 44 to Mayfair, 62 to Norwalk and 41 to La Mirada. The leader of the defensive line will be senior tackle Enoka Sautia, who had 42 tackles last season and is projected to be one of the better linemen in the league. The other tackle will be junior Pablo Rios while Alejo, Davenport and Valencia will battle for the ends.
Logan, who had 24 tackles last season, will anchor the secondary with junior Taylor Davis, Guzman, and Christian Rodriguez as the safeties. Benoit is also in the mix while Guzman could also be a cornerback. Senior Devon King, who had 73 tackles last season, Brown (57 tackles, four sacks), Davis and Guerrero are the leading guys to hold down the linebacker spots.
“I think the defense will be better than last year because we were so banged up all the time last year,” Veach said. “If we stay healthy, I think we’ll be a better defensive team than we were last year. Last year we had some experience at a couple of spots, but not at middle linebacker, not at inside guys and not at defensive tackle. This year, we have some experienced guys in the middle of our defense.”
Artesia opens up with Millikan again before facing a pair of new opponents in Magnolia and Pasadena. The Pioneers ended a four-game slide to ABC Unified School District foe Gahr last season with a come from behind victory in the fourth quarter.
“We open with Millikan and that’s going to be a tough game,” Veach said. “They’re a PAC-5 school and they almost made the playoffs last year. After that we have Magnolia, which is a new team for us. We got to throw with them a little bit [during the summer]. But they were a playoff team last year.”
League action will be interesting for the Pioneers, who have lost six straight games to La Mirada and have not beaten Mayfair in over 16 years. Artesia nearly knocked off the Monsoons last season, trailing by two points entering the fourth quarter last season before falling 44-22. Two seasons ago, Artesia lost to Mayfair by a point.
A lot will be taking place when Artesia hosts John Glenn to wrap up the regular season. It will be the homecoming game. It will be senior night. And, the Pioneers will be celebrating the school’s 60th anniversary. Artesia is 6-2 at home against Glenn since 1998, the best home mark against any league team during that time. But again, can the Pioneers make a fifth trip to the postseason since 2004?
“It’s going to come down to, can we block anybody,” Veach asked. “If we can block anybody, we’re going to be pretty good. If we’re giving the ball to Christian and if we’re giving the ball to Vincent and if we’re giving the ball to Jaydon, those are three guys who are great with the ball in their hands. Not good, but great with the ball in their hands.”