Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Riverview football wants better early results in 2023

The Rams have questions to answer, but plenty of choices, especially at quarterback.

Henry Fioriglio (53) should have a big senior season for Riverview High.
Henry Fioriglio (53) should have a big senior season for Riverview High.
File photo
  • Sarasota
  • Sports
  • Share

Armed with a new offensive coordinator, new players and a new mindset, the Riverview High football team wants to focus on the game in front of them, not past results or a potential playoff birth. 

If everything goes to plan, the latter will come. Even when things start slow, as they did in 2022, the Rams always seem to find themselves in the postseason. The Rams went 1-5 to begin 2022, but in the process sharpened themselves against some of the state's best programs, including Seminole High, Buchholz High and rival and state runner-up Venice High. But the Rams beat Charlotte High and Sarasota High, and a close loss to Cardinal Mooney High put them at 3-6. 

Thanks to the difficulty of their schedule, the Florida High School Athletic Association's algorithm placed the Rams in the playoffs, where they rattled off two-straight wins before losing to Venice again in the third round. 

The Rams have been working to change their early-season fate in 2023. In July, Rams Head Coach Josh Smithers said the offseason has featured harder practices and weight room sessions than in his previous seven summers with the program in an effort to combat the slow start the team had in 2022. The team will look different, too: Not only did the team lose key contributors like tight end Luke Petitta, linebacker Deshaun Olave and kicker Stone Springman, a University of Miami signee, to graduation, but the Rams saw consensus five-star defensive back Charles Lester III, a Florida State University commit, transfer to Venice High. 

The subtraction of these players has positioned the Rams in an underdog role — a role that Smithers and his team are embracing. Riverview added pieces, too, and Smithers believes his roster's talent, plus an offseason of work and extra motivation from the underdog label, will result in a successful season. 

"It will be exciting," Smithers said at a Suncoast Media Day press conference on Aug. 12 at The Mall at University Town Center. "We're going to have to take it one week at a time. (We) can't look ahead to anything and can't worry about what happened in the past. If we can do that, I think we have a chance to be competitive every Friday night." 

The biggest addition the Rams made might not be a player, but a coach. Brody Wiseman joined the program as the offensive coordinator after serving three years as the head coach at Sarasota High. Wiseman led the Sailors to the program's first playoff win in 18 years in 2022 when the Sailors defeated Manatee High 30-20. In his time with Sarasota, Wiseman showed an ability to mold his offense around the players he had, first airing the ball downfield, then in 2022 leading the way with running backs Joe Ziegler and Jaden Judge, who combined for 1,477 yards and 10 touchdowns. 

Rams senior running back DJ Johnson has set a goal to run for 1,500 yards in 2023.
File photo

With the Rams, Wiseman will have options. He could elect to pound the ball again, this time with Riverview junior DJ Johnson, whom Wiseman said in June was "one of the better players in the area" because of his physical running style and his developing leadership skills. Johnson said he has set a goal of 1,500 yards for 2023. 

But Wiseman could also elect to air it out. At Suncoast Media Day, Smithers declined to name a starting quarterback — he will make a decision this week, before the team's home preseason game against Hillsborough High on Aug. 18 — but he had praise for all three players in the running: senior Jeremiah Dawson, junior Braxton Thomas and sophomore Anthony Miller. Dawson, the team's 2022 starter, threw for 759 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions last season, according to MaxPreps data, and improved as the year progressed. Thomas, a transfer from Desert Vista High in Chandler, Arizona, threw for 2,275 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season. Miller is a transfer from Venice High, where he quarterbacked the junior varsity team in 2022, and has showcased both a strong arm and the ability to churn out yards on the ground: he had more than 100 rushing yards in the team's spring game against Lehigh High. 

The competition may not be closed once a starter is finally named. 

"Every day, someone is rising to the top," Smithers said. "Whoever gets the starting job, I expect the other two to be pushing him every single week to try to take the job. There's nothing better than competition to help players perform at their best. So I'm excited. I think we're in good shape in the quarterback room." 

Riverview coach Josh Smithers is entering his seventh season with the Rams.
File photo

On defense, the team's front seven has good leaders to follow in senior end Henry Fioriglio and senior linebacker Chase Caldwell. Fioriglio had 25 tackles (two tackles for loss) and a sack in 2022. Caldwell didn't produce as many statistics but is ready for a bigger role in 2023. 

"I love to step into the A gap and blow anything up that comes my way," Caldwell said at Suncoast Media Day. "But I can cover the back out of the backfield, too. Either way works for me." 

In the defensive secondary, there are few players with established spots, which means new players can shine — even if its their secondary position. One of those players could be senior Anthony Campbell, who has played wide receiver throughout his career, but said at Suncoast Media Day that he's expecting to see playing time at cornerback as well in 2023. Also expecting to see time in the secondary? DJ Johnson, who doubles as a physical corner when not trying to run for 1,500 yards. He had a pick six in the team's spring game against Lehigh. 

The team's schedule won't be any easier in 2023, with games against Buchholz, Cardinal Mooney, Clearwater Academy International and Venice among others. Smithers believes the work the team has done will mean the Rams are ready for that slate this season. 

"This group of guys, they're earning everything," Smithers said. "It hasn't been easy for them. This is the second year of playing a top-notch schedule and I think they'll be prepared." 



Ryan Kohn

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.

Latest News