Consistency is the name of the game for Riverview High.
The Rams football team has been a postseason regular under coach Josh Smithers, who is entering his sixth season in charge. In 2021, Riverview went 9-4, which includes two losses to Venice High (one in the postseason). Before elimination, the Rams did manage to knock off Steinbrenner High 31-7. Of the teams in Sarasota, Riverview has had the most natural talent in recent years. In 2022, the program will seek to find a way to translate that talent into a deeper postseason run.
The Rams will be led, on both sides of the ball, by Charles Lester III. The junior had 19 catches for 298 yards and five touchdowns for the Rams in 2021, acting as a No. 2 receiver behind Jaron Glover, who is now playing for Michigan State. Expect his offensive numbers to skyrocket in 2022 now that Glover, as well as starting running back Jay'den Birch, has graduated. Lester is lightning quick and can turn a screen pass into a big gain with ease.
On the defensive side of the ball, Lester's contributions may be even greater. The 247 Sports Composite, which pulls together national recruiting rankings from all major scouting organizations, puts Lester as a five-star recruit and the 23rd-best player in the country (the third-best cornerback). Lester, who is 6-foot-1, 171 pounds, holds offers from just about every major power in college football, including Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Michigan, which are all in Lester's top-10 list he released in July. Lester's length and range make him an invaluable asset to the Rams' secondary, who can count on him to take away an opponent's best receiving option.
The Rams are more than just one player, of course. The person tasked with getting Lester and others the ball on offense appears to be junior Jeremiah Dawson — in fact, he's the only player listed as a quarterback on the team's MaxPreps or HUDL rosters. Dawson got limited looks in 2021, but did throw a long touchdown pass in the team's playoff loss to Venice High and hit Lester for a touchdown in the Rams' spring jamboree against Sarasota High. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Dawson has the physical tools coaches look for in a successful quarterback.
The Rams' passing attack will benefit from the arrival of junior Anthony Campbell, a receiver who spent his first two seasons at Braden River High. Campbell caught 11 passes for 169 yards and four touchdowns for the Pirates despite Braden River's numerous injuries affecting their passing game. He's joining Riverview to play under his father, Amp Campbell, who was hired this offseason as the team's wide receiver coach. Amp Campbell, a former Riverview High star himself before playing at Michigan State, has previously been an assistant coach at Western Michigan and Kent State among other colleges.
The elder Campbell represented the Rams' coaching staff at an Aug. 6 Suncoast Media Day event held at the Mall at University Town Center.
"This offseason, the guys locked in," Campbell said. "They did an excellent job of coming into the weight room and also conditioning. They were motivating each other and getting ready, working on their craft. It started in spring ball and carried over into summer workouts. They're excited about the season."
The Riverview offense will also feature tight end Luke Petitta, a senior who committed to Holy Cross in July. While Petitta has not had much of an opportunity to show off his receiving ability, at least to this point, he is a strong blocker on the edge of the line and will help the Rams' running backs find room to maneuver. The lead back may be senior Lauriel Trotman, who came to the Rams from Sarasota High. He was used a safety first, running back second by the Sailors, but is listed as purely a running back by the Rams. Expect him to get plenty of carries. Senior receiver Marshall Thompson and junior receiver TJ Smith should also see passes come their way, Amp Campbell said at the media day event.
Defensively, the Rams do lose most of their top tacklers from last season, but their replacements should be able to fill in well. Senior defensive linemen Da'Marcus Abner and Dont'a Abner can cause havoc in the backfield. Senior linebacker Deshaun Olave can rack up tackles in the middle of the field. Senior safety Triston Parsons showed an ability to make game-changing interceptions in 2021. Turnovers sometimes come down to luck, but if that ability can carry over to 2022, it will be a big help. Senior defensive end Frank D'Antonio can also be a contributor; he had a pick six in the team's spring jamboree.
The Rams also have a secret weapon in senior kicker Stone Springman, who is rated a 4.5-star kicker by Kornblue Kicking and is ranked No. 5 on the organization's Fab 50 list. In tight games, Springman's ability to make kicks under pressure can come in clutch.
A look at the team's schedule reveals a tough slate of games. Under Smithers, Riverview has not been shy about seeking the best opponents possible, even if it means the Rams' win-loss record is a game or two different than it would be with an easier campaign. The 2022 is no different: The Rams play local rival/juggernaut Venice High at home, but they also play Lehigh Senior High, which features the No. 2 running back in the country in Alabama commit Richard Young, and Seminole High, which went 11-2 in 2021 and beat the Rams 35-6.
But this is what they do. Iron sharpens iron, and the Rams hope playing these tough games gets them ready for the postseason, where they will likely have to get past Venice once again. It is a task easier said than done, but Riverview has the necessary players to give them a chance.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.