Riverview High football knows what it is, and it isn't trying to change.
It is that time of year.
Helmets get strapped a little tighter. Receivers run a little faster. Hits create bruises a little bluer. Linemen get a little stronger. Touchdown celebrations last a little longer and losses sting a little deeper.
OK. A lot deeper.
This is the high school football playoff season. There are no more second chances. It is the best against the best. If you don't shape up, you'll be shipped out, and that's a guarantee. It's something Riverview High coach Josh Smithers knows well.
The Rams (8-2) are the only Sarasota team to reach the postseason in 2019. All eyes are on them. That's fine, Smithers said. Last season, Riverview went on a run to the state semifinals (final four) after an up-and-down regular season had the Rams sitting at 7-3.
"I don't know if a lot of people expected us to make the final four last year," Smithers said. "I don't know if they expect us to this year, either. It's hard to say. But when we are playing our best, I think we have a good football team."
Riverview, ranked 28th overall by the Florida High School Athletic Association, hosts Lake Nona High, ranked 199, at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 8. The game will be available to watch online at NFHSnetwork.com with a subscription, in case you can't make it in person.
The Lions (7-3) are pass-heavy, with senior quarterback Colin Johnson throwing for 3,056 yards and 31 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. That differs from a lot of Riverview's recent opponents. The Rams defense has gotten used to stopping the run, but Smithers said he does not anticipate any struggles going back to defending the pass. The basic concepts are the same either way, he said, and he has faith in his pass rush to rattle Johnson and in his secondary to take advantage of that and create turnovers. Smithers said he believes that in the playoffs, teams that stick to who they are end up having the most success.
Speaking of turnovers, the Rams know they need to limit their own. Senior quarterback Sean White said that was a lesson they learned last year. Self-inflicted mistakes are what led to their regular season struggles; Once fixed, they were suddenly playing elite football. The team has not had problems to that extend this season, but it is always prudent to clean things up to as much as possible at this time of year.
In the face of a staunch passing attack, one might expect the Riverview secondary to be in the spotlight, but Smithers said he couldn't single out a defensive player of most importance if he tried. The Rams are a team, in every sense of the word. They have playmakers, sure, but they are more than the sum of their parts.
"I like that about us," Smithers said. "There is not one person for opponents to focus on. We have multiple ways we can win."
Can the Rams make a similar deep run this season? I don't see why not. If anything they have more weapons on offense — senior running back Tray Hall, junior utility man Michale Hayes and his brother, sophomore wideout Omari Hayes, plus sophomore wideout Duke Timmons and senior tight end Michael Fraraccio. Defensively, they have allowed 30 points once all season, to undefeated Naples High.
Good offense and good defense. That's a recipe for success. We'll begin to find out how well it all comes together on Friday.