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2019 High School Football Preview: Can St. Joseph repeat as Mountain League champ?

From the Collection: 2019 High School Football - See all of our season previews, power rankings and player profiles right here! series
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2019 High School Football Preview: Can St. Joseph repeat as Mountain League champ?
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Pepe Villasenor has hit the ground running at St. Joseph.

Though the regular season wasn't perfect, things couldn't have gone much better in Villasenor's first year at the helm. 

The Knights won all their big games en route to claiming the Mountain League title, clinching the league crown with a thrilling 27-21 win over rival Righetti.

The playoffs, however, didn't go as planned. The Knights landed the fifth seed in the CIF-CS D1 playoffs and lost to Fresno Bullard fairly convincingly, 45-28, in the first round of the postseason.

Don't plan on another first-round exit in 2019.

The Knights are now in Division 2 and have some pieces in place to compete with some of the best teams there. They should also be in the mix for another Mountain League title, though Righetti, A.G. and possibly Paso Robles are right there, too.

"St. Joe has always had a great deal of tradition and discipline, but I think one thing that has changed is our standards—whether it's on the field or in the classroom or in the community," Villasenor said. "Things are the same, but we are trying to elevate the standard each and every year."

St. Joseph went 8-3 in Villasenor's first year. Things got off a tremendous start with a 42-6 win over Visalia's Central Valley Christian, which went on to win the D4 title in the Central Section.

The first loss came to Bakersfield Christian, which lost in the D3 title game.

The Knights then lost to Lompoc before rolling through the Mountain League unbeaten at 4-0 and outscoring their opponents by 90 points.

The Knights' biggest hole to fill on offense is at QB. Senior Chase Artopoeus threw 26 TDs against just one INT and is now trying to walk-on at UCLA. Mark Crisp, a sophomore is set to start at QB for the Knights.

"One of the things we talk about here is we don't care whether you're a sophomore or a senior, if you are the starting QB or the starting D-end, you have responsibilities that you have to uphold," Villasenor said. 

Helping Crisp power the offense will be senior running back Devin Guggia, a powerful back that can carry the ball 20 to 25 times a game. Darien Langley, a junior, returns as the Knights' most explosive play-maker. 

"Darien does an incredible job of stretching the field and we're going to attempt to put him at different spots throughout the field so you always have to hold him accountable," Villasenor said. "When that occurs, other guys have to start making plays when they start doubling him or paying attention to him."

Langley has scored on 99-yard kick returns, long touchdown catches and can break off long runs in a moment's notice.

The Knights also have to replace Artopoeus' favorite target in Trevor Cole, who set the school's single-season touchdown reception record after hauling in 16 TDs in 2018 as a senior. Cole is now attempting to walk-on at Boise State. 

"I think it'll be by committee," Villasenor said of finding his No. 1 receiving target this year. "It'll be game-by-game. The truth is that we're all about developing players. I don't think anyone knew who Trevor Cole was coming into his senior year, but I'm sure after the year ended they certainly knew who he was.

"That's a St. Joe theme: It's the next guy up and guys are constantly being developed."

Villasenor is also running a modern offense with lots of uptempo sets and more of the RPO look that is taking over the game. The run-pass-option offenses are in vogue at the college level. RPO forces quarterbacks to decide to hand the ball off or hit a quick pass after the ball is snapped.

"It certainly gives our quarterback, who can be a mobile quarterback, different options," Villasenor said. "It also keeps the defense on their toes and guessing. You have to be schematically sound in order to stop the RPO game, so we will implement that."

The Knights have a rock-solid schedule, playing CVC, Bakersfield Christian and Lompoc again. They also added San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret's in a non-league game and will meet Righetti in the regular-season finale. They play at Garces in Bakersfield on Aug. 30 and at Bakersfield Centennial on Sept. 20.

"The truth is, we can play a 10-0 team or an 0-10 team and my anxiety is going to be up and I'm going to want everything to be perfect, regardless," Villasenor said. "Like I said, we're talking about creating a high-level standard and when doing so we want to be playing quality opponents, week-in and week-out, so that our young men are prepared for the postseason —God willing we get there."

The St. Joseph offensive line is a bit green, but there's some talent there. Ethan Otremba, a guard, is one of the veteran leaders on that unit. 

"We have the next guy stepping up and we have a lot of new brothers making plays," Otremba said. "We're relying on them."

Otremba likes running an uptempo offense from his lineman position.

"It's good for us because we can catch the defense off guard a little bit," Otremba said. "You have to be in good condition to run that."

Freshman Makai Sat is a guy to keep an eye on. He's 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and already set to start.

Senior linebacker Josiah Acosta will be one of the leaders on defense. The Knights have relied on strong 'backers the past several years, going from Fenton Will to Tim Miller to Zak Wilson last year. 

"I think we're capable of doing great things as long as we keep leading and keep making plays," Acosta said. "We have some pretty good guys this year. We had guys leave last year but we're coming together as a brotherhood. We're expecting big things."

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With returners, from left, Devin Guggia, Josiah Acosta, Michael Madrigal, Ethan Otremba and Jacob Medrano, can St. Joseph win the Mountain League title again in 2019? They'll have to beat Righetti, Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande like they did in 2018.

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St. Joseph's Tyler Williams catches a pass during a recent practice. Williams, who played at Cabrillo last year, is expected to help the Knights at receiver and defensive back this season. 

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St. Joseph quarterback Mark Crisp hands the ball off to Devin Guggia during a practice that was held in front of St. Joseph fans and supporters at Jay Will Stadium. Crisp is the new starting quarterback at St. Joseph while Guggia returns to lead the Knights' rushing attack.

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