The Rams have high expectations after a historic playoff run.
A year after reaching the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 8A state semifinal for the first time since 2004, the Riverview High football team is making changes.
The Rams, like most teams, don’t have the luxury of repeating what worked in 2018 thanks to the departure of 24 seniors. The graduating class included running back Ali Boyce, who ran for 1,820 yards on 260 carries. Overall, the team ran the ball 73.8% of the time last season, with quarterback Sean White, now a senior, and running back/wideout Michael “Poohdah” Hayes, a junior, also getting attempts.
Rams coach Josh Smithers said the loss of Boyce, the lack of elite size on the offensive line and the development of White have led to Riverview focusing on a more balanced attack. Smithers isn’t concerned about the change. He believes White has greatly improved over the offseason. In 2018, the 6-foot-2 QB completed 53.1% of his passes and threw 19 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Those numbers should improve in 2019. White said July 23 that he has spent the offseason finding a rapport with his receiving corps and feels good about what the team will be able to accomplish.
“It’s his second year in the offense,” Smithers said of White. “He is playing with a lot of confidence. We trust Sean’s decision making and his ability to get the ball to the weapons we have. If he can do that, we feel like we have a chance.”
Smithers believes last season’s deep playoff run will be a boon to the program’s younger players, if for no reason other than confidence. The Rams no longer have to worry about how they stack up to opponents, he said. They know they can hang with anyone if they play their best football. It sets an expectation, he said.
The Rams offensive cupboard won’t be bare. Hayes, a two-year starter, has proven himself capable of busting big plays. He’ll be joined by senior running back Tray Hall, a transfer from Cardinal Mooney who ran for 1,250 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018. Smithers said Hall will enter the season as the starting running back while Hayes will start at the “H” (slot receiver). Smithers also said he expects Hayes to get more than the 121 carries he received last season, so both players should get plenty of opportunities with the ball.
Defensively, Riverview returns a front seven that includes senior outside linebacker Jayden Cray, who hold offers from Ohio, Central Michigan and Western Kentucky, among others. Junior defensive tackles Jairus Brewer (6-foot-4) and Sincere Littles (6-foot-2) also hold Division 1 offers. The secondary will be young, so senior safety Matt Garcia’s leadership will be key. The more pressure Cray, Brewer and Littles can put on opposing offenses, the more success the defense will have.
There have been, and will continue to be, struggles. Smithers was not happy with his team following an Aug. 6 practice, citing a lack of hustle among other issues. The Rams have to find consistency, he said, and not let one bad practice turn into two.
“We have a lot of new faces out there,” Smithers said. “Sometimes with that, there is a maturity process that has to happen. We need some of these guys who have been around, even if they are not starters, to get them up to par.”
If the team’s veterans can get the team in gear, another playoff run could be in the program’s future.