November of 2018 was a glorious time for the Artesia football team. The Pioneers went 10-4 and made it to their first sectional championship game in program history, and the school has been around since 1954.
“We’ve got kids that are mostly from one-parent households,” head coach Don Olmstead said. “They have all kinds of crazy stuff that you wouldn’t even imagine going on in a high-school kid’s life that they’re dealing with.
“To be able to overcome that and show them that hard work can pay off … you sometimes fall short, but there are times when it works out and you keep grinding and that’s what they did last year and that’s a big accomplishment for our kids.”
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Indeed, the Pioneers trailed in their first two playoff games in ’18, only to survive and ultimately make school history by first getting to the semifinals, then the Division 12 finals ahead of falling to Linfield Christian.
Artesia has lost virtually all of its skill players from that team. Running back Travys Davis rushed for 2,288 yards and 29 touchdowns. Gone. Quarterback Heder Gladden passed for 1,150 yards and 14 TDs and rushed for 2,478 and 34 more TDs. Gone.
But if this year’s players can match their coach’s enthusiasm, the Pioneers might be able to emerge out of the 605 League with another berth in the playoffs.
“A lot of sophomores on the field, a lot of juniors on the field and not a lot of experience, so we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Olmstead said of this season’s team.
There are three players battling for the quarterback job. None have experience there. Junior Devin Yoakum, a receiver by trade, appears to be the leading candidate. The others are sophomore K’Len Williams and senior Tyler Kemp, who is out for football for the first time.
That said, perhaps the most important thing will be the ability to run the ball. Artesia rushed for an average of 363.5 yards per game this past season. They did so with talent and a big offensive line.
The team’s top three linemen return. They are senior Jonathon Manzo (6-2, 240), junior Raul Bello (6-4, 310) and sophomore John Roberts (6-1, 260). They will be joined there by junior Andrew Sanders (6-3, 295) with three others vying for the center spot. Sanders played some nose guard a season ago.
“If we can make a run at like 12 or 13 games, we could have three or four thousand-yard rushers,” Olmstead said. “I think we can still get those yards with the big line up front.”
Among those vying for playing time at running back are sophomore Tyler Miller, junior Corey McKinley and Kyeyou Lenoir.
As for how the league shapes up, Olmstead likes its parity.
“I think us and Glenn still have a little bit of separation on Pioneer and Cerritos,” Olmstead said of the four-team circuit. “But I think the beauty of our league is any year it can change.”