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Loren Kopff’s 2023 Football Preview – Artesia Hopes to Bounce Back With Experience of Last Season’s Young Squad

July 26, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

ARTESIA PIONEERS

1-8-1 overall last season, 1-2 in the 605 League, third place

17-29-1 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Connor Crook (first season)

Lost six seniors out of 27 players from 2022 opening day roster

Last time made the playoffs: 2021

2023 schedule

Aug. 18           @ Workman (0-10 overall last season)

Aug. 25           Mark Keppel (0-10)

Sept. 1            @ Bolsa Grande (6-6)           

Sept. 8            @ Ocean View (2-8) 

Sept. 15          BYE

Sept. 22          Los Amigos (8-3)                   

Sept. 29          Viewpoint (2-8)

Oct. 5              @ Garey (6-6)                        

Oct. 12            @ Pioneer (4-7)                     

Oct. 19            Cerritos (5-6)                         

Oct. 26            John Glenn (2-7)

Not including the 2020 Covid season, the first several seasons in the 605 League have been what the Artesia High football team was looking for. A chance to be competitive enough to where it can either win a league title, which it did in 2018, or make the playoffs, which it did in 2019 and 2021. But last season, the Pioneers struggled with low numbers and injuries. Now, the Pioneers have their third straight head coach in as many seasons as Connor Crook takes over for Nate Hollister. 

Crook was on former head coach Don Olmstead’s staff for the 2021 season, which went 2-9, then was the head coach of the freshmen/sophomore team last season. Before that, Crook coached at Los Alamitos High for a few seasons. 

“It’s been a process so far,” said Crook.  “I think last year was tough; we had a small team. So, our big concern was building up numbers and building the program going forward, which I think we’ve done. We’re going to have 35-40 kids this year. So, I think we’re in a good spot as far as numbers go heading into the season, and that was kind of our plan all along.”

What will help Artesia this season is despite the low numbers last season, and the youth of the team, a lot of players got a lot of playing time, especially both ways. Crook added that he and the coaching staff will lean on that and that they have a lot of pieces to move around on both sides of the ball.

Another advantage that Crook has is that he knows the program inside and out and has coached many of the players the past two seasons.  Even with the freshmen that Crook coached last season, he said it was a building year because a lot of them have never played the sport before.

“I’ve kind of built the foundation for them that we’re still continuing on,” he said. “For them, it was business as usual when I was named the head coach [of varsity], because the other guys, there was some learning curve. But for the most part, we’re in a good spot and I think a lot of our guys have bought in at this point.” 

OFFENSE

The Pioneers scored 79 points last season, but 33 came against Glenn and 21 against Marquez in a tie game that was cut short early in the second half because of lighting issues. Artesia scored 11 touchdowns and was shutout five times. The first offensive touchdown didn’t come until the third game and had three offensive touchdowns through the first five games.

Last season, junior Charlie Lopez began the season at the quarterback position, then got injured and junior Julius Padilla (23 for 59, 230 yards, two touchdowns in 2022) picked up the slack the remainder of the season. This season, Padilla will move to the backfield and become Artesia’s leading running back. Last season, Padilla rushed 102 times, gained 188 yards, and scored twice. Crook said that he intends to put Padilla in the slot position from time to time. 

Lopez, who was 10 of 32 for 72 yards last season, and senior Santiago Parrilla have been battling at the quarterback position and Crook doesn’t know who would start the opener, adding that both have had good summers in passing league tournaments.

“They’re seeing all the right things, they’re making good decisions, and they’re speeding up those decisions, too,” said Crook. “I think by the time the season starts we’ll be in a good spot. But both are going to probably end up playing at some point during the season. But right now it’s a battle for who is going to start game one.”

Joining Padilla in the backfield will be seniors Amaree Davis (13 carries, 71 yards, one touchdown), Exequiel Kyle Hilario, who played in a lot of positions last season, and sophomore Josue Flores.

Crook said the wide receiving position is wide open, but in the mix are returning seniors Joshua Campbell (eight receptions, 89 yards), Pablo Cruz, and Jordan McGruder. Joining them will be junior Ahkil Sampson, who is new to football and sophomore Christopher Razo.

Protecting them on the line will be senior Chase Adams, whom Crook says is the journeyman on the line and can play any position up there because of his experience. Last season, Adams was the center. To begin the season, he will play at left guard. 

Vying for the left tackle position will be junior Deangelo Tucker and sophomores Sebastian Devora and Gerson Juarez. Junior King Johnson moves from right tackle to center while sophomore Maximus Garcia goes from right tackle to right guard and senior right tackle Jonathan Martinez, who played on the left side last season, round out the line. 

Based off the seven-on-seven competitions and passing leagues this summer, Crook has already seen signs that the 2023 offense will be better than the 2022 offense.

“I think compared to last year, we’re making a lot better decisions passing-wise,” he said. “And then up front, like I said, we have guys who are returning and are experienced. I think we’ll be okay offensively this year.

“Of course, we’re going to lean on seniors that have played a lot,” he continued. “But I don’t really pinpoint guys specifically. I think everyone can kind of step up and do the right thing and lead by example or hold teammates accountable.”

DEFENSE

Just like the offense coupled with the low numbers and youth, the defense struggled as the Pioneers allowed 324 points, which was 77 points fewer than in 2021. There were eight games in which Artesia yielded over 20 points and four games of over 40 points.

Senior Hector Ramirez (nose guard), Johnson, Juarez, Martinez (nose guard) and Tucker will be the main linemen while the secondary, which has to be the strength of the defense, will be locked down by Davis (25 and a half tackles last season) and McGruder (18 tackles) at strong safety and free safety, respectively, junior Oscar Canchola and Cruz (27 tackles) as the cornerbacks. In the mix at safety is Campbell, Parrilla and freshman Eduardo Marrero while laying middle linebacker will be Adams (28 and a half tackles) with Padilla and Razo also slated to be linebackers. 

“He’s fairly athletic for a bigger sized lineman kid,” said Crook of Adams. “He’s actually been really good. He’s picked it up kind of quick. He asks really good questions; he really wants to learn and be good at it. We’re kind of excited about him there.”

SCHEDULE

Artesia was a Division 14 team last season and will play seven teams who were in the division last season with the other three being Division 13 foes. If you go on paper, the first two games and three of the first four seem favorable for the Pioneers. But Crook is focused on one thing.

“Right now, it’s all Workman,” said Crook. “We’re not looking ahead too much because last year was a rough year for us as well. So, I don’t think we’re in any position to look ahead at other teams. I don’t want to get caught up in that. Workman had a rough couple of years like us. But we’re not going to take them lightly. We’re going to go in there and play as hard as we can.”

Half of the opponents went to the playoffs last season with Bolsa Grande High and Garey High each advancing to the quarterfinals. Only Los Amigos High, which blanked Artesia 31-0 last season, is the only opponent that had a winning mark in 2022. It and Viewpoint High are the only repeat non-league opponents from last season, and the latter defeated the Pioneers 18-14.

“This is going to be my third year [with the Artesia program] and the last two years, I’ve always thought our league has been competitive and you never know who is going to win,” said Crook. “As long as compete, I think we’re all in similar situations, so it’s just who’s going to be ready by the time league comes around.”

HOMECOMING

Artesia was blanked by Westminster High 42-0 in last season’s homecoming game and the Pioneers have lost two straight and three of their last four in such games. While this season’s homecoming opponent was unknown as of the middle of July, most likely it will be either Los Amigos or Viewpoint in late September. Artesia is 1-2 in homecoming games against non-league opponents with the lone victory coming in 2005, a 28-24 win over Gahr High.

FINAL COMMENT

“I think we have a good group of coaches, too,” said Crook. “The guys we brought in really care about the kids and are excited to see where this takes us. They’ve been here every day; they’ve been working really hard. So, I’ve been leaning on those guys a lot and they’ve helped me out”