For the third time in three seasons, St. Joseph will have a new head coach.
The Knights have gone from Dustin Davis in 2016 to Jim Chvala on an interim basis in 2017 and now to Pepe Villasenor, who takes the reins for 2018 and beyond.
The hiring of Villasenor has been met with universal praise. Every coach and player this reporter has spoken to has said nothing but great things about Villasenor, who's in his first year as a head coach on the varsity level.
Villasenor was a star receiver at St. Bonaventure in the late 1990s, winning CIF championships while setting Ventura County records for the Seraphs and coach Jon Mack.
Since, the former wideout has spent time training NFL players and was a coach at Crespi in Encino before coming to Foster Road in Santa Maria.
Though there's been a bit of coaching movement within the program, the Knights have been nothing but steady through the last decade. The Knights have won at least seven games in each of the last six seasons. They've competed in the larger PAC 7 League, winning one league title, and held their own in the Los Padres League.
They're now in the Mountain League, the area's toughest conference, with Righetti, Arroyo Grande, Paso Robles and Atascadero.
St. Joseph has been a consistent quarterfinalist in the CIF Southern Section, but will face a different challenge in 2018 as a member of the CIF Central Section and in its Division I.
The Knights have taken that challenge head on, scheduling some of the most respected Central Section teams this year.
"The truth of the matter is that we're not going to shy away from competition," Villasenor said. "We'll play anyone anywhere at any time. If we want to be at the Division I level, then we have to play at the Division I level from the get-go.
"Really, it'll be a measuring stick to see where we're at as a program and as a team."
Villasenor likes the non-league schedule, but also feels the Knights are ready to take on the Mountain League competition, though he admits he's not getting caught up in league rivalries.
"I think I'm in a beneficial spot because I don't know the league," Villasenor said. "I don't know the competitors and I'm not wrapped up in the rivalries. I'm focusing on the team that we play next, whichever team that may be, whether it's Atascadero, Paso, Righetti or Arroyo Grande. I'll prepare for them equally."
The Knights will run a complex offense, with multiple formations, Villasenor says. They'll run empty spread sets and a number of different personnel groupings.
The Knights start the season Friday night (Aug. 17) at Visalia Central Valley Christian, which went 10-3 last year and lost to Golden West in the CIF-CS Division IV title game.
The Knights will also host Bakersfield Garces, which is a respected Central Valley private school.
The Knights travel to Bakersfield Christian, which is coached by Darren Carr, the older brother of David Carr, the former No. 1 overall pick for the Houston Texans, and current Raiders QB Derek Carr. David Carr is the team's offensive coordinator.
The Eagles went 10-2 last year and lost to Fresno San Jaoquin Memorial in the Division 3 championship game.
The Knights also play Bakersfield Centennial, a much larger school, at home and play at Lompoc in a non-league game.
One of the more intriguing story lines is the play of new quarterback Chase Artopoeus, who's familiar with the area after spending his first two years at Righetti before playing last season at Thousand Oaks. Artopoeus is a 6-foot-2 senior who's drawn interest from Ivy League schools.
Artopoeus has completed around 52 percent of his passes in three seasons as a varsity quarterback. Last year he threw 18 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. In three varsity seasons, he's thrown 22 TDs and 19 interceptions.
"I'm just focused on being a leader and bringing my experience to the team," Artopoeus said. "I just want to do my job. I'm not trying to do anything out of my reach or below what I think I can do. Just be 1/11th of that offense and make it function great as a quarterback."
Artopoeus has grown quite a bit since he was thrust into the starting role as a freshman at Righetti. He says his biggest development has been the ability to handle adversity.
"If you look back at my freshman year, sometimes I got flustered by certain things," Artopoeus said. "But now as a senior I don't really get flustered and I think I can read the defense pretty good. I think I've grown as a team leader. I used to be more quiet, but now I'm trying to be more vocal.
"(Leadership) is everything, but this team is really good. They're disciplined, they all do what they need to do and we're on a good track right now. It makes my job pretty easy."
Artopoeus feels the Knights have reloaded offensively, with a lot of players taking strides to take on the role as key producers.
"I don't think it's just one guy right now because we're a really balanced offense," Artopoeus said. "I don't think one guy is going to get the ball every single play... Everyone is just really good, so I don't think it's going to be one person."
Look for Darien Langley, Devin Guggia, EJ Brinez and perhaps Trevor Cole to make big plays on offense, though a newcomer may break out at some point. Langley is the top sprinter in the area and brings a ton of speed. Guggia had a solid sophomore season as a backup running back in 2017.
The goal for Artopoeus at this point? It's pretty simple.
"The goal is just to win," he said.
The offensive line also seems to be a key anchor for the Knights. They return three All-League players from a year ago: Alex Ontiveros, Isaac Yanez and Jakob Hernandez.
"I think we're going to have a great line, maybe one of the best lines we've had in years," Artopoeus said. "I've been seeing their lines over the years at St. Joe's, and I think this line is going to be great."
The Knights wrap up the regular season with a game at Righetti, which is now a Mountain League game.