The only bad thing about the high school football season is how short it is.
We're three weeks into the 2023 season as I write this. That seems like a small sample size, and it is to a certain extent, but it's also more than a quarter of the way through the regular season. We're entering the meat of the schedule, starting this week. No more talk of slow starts or anything of the sort: if teams are going to make a playoff push, they need to do it now.
They'll do so in part with the players below. I've taken a look at the players making the biggest impacts through three weeks. Some were expected to have big years; some were not. But preseason expectations don't matter anymore, only results, and these kids are getting results.
Michael Valentino, Cardinal Mooney High
I'll confess: I wasn't sure how Valentino would do under center for the Cougars at the beginning of the season.
I had never seen him play prior to 2023, so all I had were his stats last season at Charlotte High: 1,090 passing yards, a 52% completion percentage, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Not bad, but not great, either.
He's been great for the Cougars in 2023. Through three games, all wins, Valentino has thrown for 462 yards (with a 62% completion percentage), seven touchdowns and just one interception. He's also run for 247 yards and three touchdowns. On an offense filled with skill players holding NCAA Division I commitments or offers, Valentino is proving he can hold his own.
Jordan Radkey, Booker High
Tornadoes junior defensive lineman Jordan Radkey has been a tackling machine in 2023. Radkey has 32 tackles through three games, with four tackles for loss, a sack and two quarterback hurries. When it comes to stopping the run, there are not many doing it better than Radkey right now. Thanks in part to his play, the Tornadoes limited Sarasota High to 56 rushing yards last week.
The Riverview High rushing attack
I couldn't limit this group to a single player when it seems like anyone who touches the ball in the Rams' backfield has a chance to reach the end zone on a given play.
Take junior running back DJ Johnson. He has 355 yards and four touchdowns on 44 carries through three games. That would be impressive on its own, but take this into consideration: the team's change-of-pace back, sophomore Isaiah Belt, has 30 carries for 298 yards and four touchdowns. And senior quarterback Braxton Thomas can scoot as well: he has 30 rushes for 98 yards and, you guessed it, four touchdowns. That totals to 751 yards and 12 touchdowns for the trio, in three games.
The Rams' passing attack has been strong too, as you'll see below. But the backfield has been the driving force behind Riverview's scoring machine. Putting 52 points on Palmetto High (1-1) while scoring on every possession, as the Rams did Sept. 8, is one of the more impressive feats I can remember. Keep the rushing attack up, and there's a lot more points coming.
Tyren Wortham, Booker High
I could have easily placed Booker senior receiver Josiah Booker on this list, as he has 292 yards and four touchdowns through three weeks. But I had to give props to someone averaging two whole touchdowns per game, and that's what Booker teammate Tyren Wortham is doing.
Wortham, a sophomore, has nine catches for 220 yards and six touchdowns in three games. The 6-foot-0 Wortham is averaging 24.4 yards per catch and has become a reliable option for junior quarterback Alex Diaz.
Anthony Campbell, Riverview High
Campbell, the Rams' senior wide receiver, has been one of the area's premier deep threats in 2023. Campbell has eight catches for 240 yards and three touchdowns this season, good for 30 yards per reception.
One of the many fun matchups I'm looking forward to watching when Riverview plays Cardinal Mooney on Sept. 14 is Campbell, alongside sophomore teammate Anthony Miller, going up against Mooney's airtight secondary.
Chris Rudolph, Sarasota High
Things have not gone well for the Sailors in 2023, as they sit at 0-3 with an 88-31 point differential. But senior wide receiver Chris Rudolph has made some positive plays, including an impressive touchdown on the sideline in week one against Fort Meade High and an eight-yard score in week two against Manatee High.
If the Sailors are going to get in the win column, looking Rudolph's way early and often would be a wise move.
Bryce Fulda, Cardinal Mooney High
Sophomore Mooney defensive lineman Bryce Fulda has impressed with his early-season play. Fulda has two sacks, three tackles for loss and interception in addition to generally sowing chaos on opposing offensive lines. Fulda's play has helped the Mooney secondary shut down opposing passing attacks thanks to quarterbacks having limited time to throw.
Alex Diaz, Booker High
Junior quarterback Alex Diaz came to Booker from Sarasota High after throwing for 911 yards (with a 50.5% completion percentage), 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2022. That completion percentage has not changed much — it's at 50.9% through three games — but everything else has.
Thanks to Booker looking to attack downfield as much as possible, Diaz has thrown for 630 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception thus far. If he can keep the turnovers to a minimum, Diaz has the arm strength to be a dangerous passer in the Tornadoes' offense.
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.