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Prose and Kohn

What to watch as spring football begins in Sarasota

Each of the area's teams has intriguing storylines to follow before summer arrives.

Cardinal Mooney junior Chris McCorkle (8) sprints downfield against Riverview.
Cardinal Mooney junior Chris McCorkle (8) sprints downfield against Riverview.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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High school spring football begins this week, and with it comes hope that each area team's fall slate will be packed with wins. But each area program also faces big questions. 

Can Cardinal Mooney High do it again?

The biggest question goes to the program with the best finish in 2023.

Cardinal Mooney High (12-2) won its first Florida High School Athletic Association state title in December, defeating Trinity Catholic 31-27 in Tallahassee to capture the Class 1S crown. It was a dream season for the Cougars, whose only losses came against Class 4S Riverview High and Class 2S Bishop Verot High. It was what everyone involved with the school has wanted for decades, including Head Coach Jared Clark, a Cougars alum. 

But get a taste of glory, and suddenly glory is all you want. The state championship win raised the expectations of the program, but 2023 is in the rearview mirror. With the 2024 season arriving before you know it, there's a single goal: Do it again. 

Can they? The first step to answering that question will be taken this spring, as the coaches work to find good fits for the team's returnees and newcomers alike after graduating a talented senior class. And there are plenty of newcomers, like offensive lineman Chase Polivchak, the 6-foot-5, 290-pound blocking machine who previously played at The Out-of-Door Academy. The team is also adding wide receiver RJ Mosley, a 6-foot-3 pass-catcher from Pittsburg High in Pittsburg, California, who holds offers from the University of Nevada and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. 

If there's a biggest question mark this spring, it is likely the defense's front seven. The team's five leading tacklers from 2023 are gone. Who will fill those roles? 

The Cougars will see how they fare in a spring game jamboree against Clearwater High and St. Petersburg High at 6:30 p.m. May 16 in St. Petersburg. 

Can Riverview High make the leap?

Since Josh Smithers took over the Rams program in 2017, he's reestablished Riverview as a postseason player, even taking the team to the state semifinals in 2018 (where they lost 45-31 to Mandarin High and current University of Georgia quarterback/2024 Heisman contender Carson Beck). In more recent seasons, the Rams have continued the regular-season success but have run into a Venice High-shaped wall in the postseason. 

Isaiah Belt and DJ Johnson split carries for the Rams football team in 2023 — to great effect.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

In order to accomplish any other goals the program has, it will have to overcome Venice at some point. Is 2024 the year that happens?

The Rams will likely turn to rising junior Anthony Miller at quarterback. Miller played wide receiver in 2023, catching 26 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns from senior quarterback Braxton Thomas, but Miller is a natural quarterback with a strong arm and the speed to be a dual threat. Miller threw nine passes last season, completing four for 109 yards and a touchdown. 

Whether it is Miller or someone else, the quarterback will have a returning two-headed monster at running back in rising senior DJ Johnson (1,660 yards, 23 touchdowns) and rising junior Isaiah Belt (1,094 yards, 14 touchdowns). On defense, the Rams return rising senior linebacker Landon Marsters (108 tackles, two interceptions), but will need others to step up alongside him to replicate the team's stingy defense from the second half of 2023. 

The Rams will play in their spring jamboree at 6:30 p.m. May 24 at Bishop Verot High.

What does Sarasota High look like under Amp Campbell?

The question says it all. 

Anthony "Amp" Campbell will take over the program as head coach following the departure of Josh Phillips — who initially left to take an assistant coaching job at Wagner College in January, then accepted a defensive assistant position with the Las Vegas Raiders in February. Phillips coached the Sailors for one season and went 1-9. 

The Sailors need a reset after years of constant changes. Campbell, who was an assistant coach at Riverview High last season and played there as a high schooler, certainly knows the game. He played college football at Michigan State University as a defensive back before a neck injury suffered in a 1998 game against the University of Oregon ended his career. He's also coached at the college level at Western Michigan University and Alabama State University among other stops. 

What remains to be seen is how Campbell handles a program he can call his own. Fans will see what his plans for offense and defense look like when the Sailors play their spring game 7 p.m. May 16 on the road against Lakewood High. 

Will Booker High continue to climb?

If year one under Head Coach Scottie Littles was about the building blocks of the program, year two was about ascension. 

Booker High wasted no time in becoming a threat in FHSAA Class 2S. The Tornadoes went 9-5 in the 2023 regular season and saved their best for the playoffs, reaching the state semifinals before losing 41-3 to Cocoa High.

Based on Booker's new additions, the Tornadoes have no plans for their rise to stop in 2024. 

The Tornadoes added former Venice High running back Jamarice Wilder this offseason as a replacement for graduating senior Ahmad Hunter. Wilder, a rising senior, ran for 1,271 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2023. He's not the only former Indian to join Booker: quarterback Ryan Downes will also don the team's signature purple jerseys in the fall. Downes, a rising senior, got limited minutes behind Venice starter Jadyn Glasser, but still completed 13 of 25 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns while running 28 times for 200 yards and seven touchdowns.

Booker will need its new offensive players to mesh — and find a replacement for wide receiver Josiah Booker, who is off to Central Michigan University — but they'll be joined by rising junior defensive back Chauncey Kennon, a four-star recruit who played for Southeast High last season.

Is adding all that talent via transfer the formula for a state title in Class 2S? The public will get its first glance at the new-look Tornadoes at the school's Purple and Gold Game scrimmage at 4 p.m. May 17 at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex. 

How will Sarasota Christian School make the transition to 11-man football?

The Blazers started with an eight-man football program in 2022 and found success right away, going 15-8 over two seasons. 

How will Sarasota Christian's key players, like rising junior quarterback Justin Brock, adjust to the 11-man game, where there is less space to maneuver and more emphasis on winning in the trenches? 

Brock threw for 1,115 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for 563 yards and five touchdowns while splitting time with rising junior Ben Milliken. Are those numbers a result of lax defense, or does Brock have the ability to replicate it against tighter windows? 

The same questions go for the rest of the Blazers. SCS will play its spring game jamboree at 10 a.m. May 18 at The Out-of-Door Academy against ODA and Canterbury High. 



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.

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