By VINNIE PORTELL
In a state like Florida, there’s football talent worth watching at nearly every high school game in the area on Friday nights.
While you can get a good idea of how skilled some players are from looking up their recruiting profiles online, that doesn’t necessarily reveal the whole picture.
If you’re looking for the most exciting players to watch this season, look no further. The Sun has compiled a list of the area’s most eye-popping athletes, who could put up highlight reels on a weekly basis.
1. Malachi Wideman, WR at Venice — A two-sport athlete who is committed to play both football and basketball at Florida State, Wideman transferred from Riverview to Venice in the nick of time for fall football. Though he had just 21 catches in 2018, he turned that into 342 yards and nine touchdowns and will surely beat those numbers playing in a loaded Venice High offense in 2019.
2. Jeremiah Harvey, WR/RB/DB at Charlotte — In this day and age of specialized skills, players like Harvey are hard to find. This do-it-all athlete is a dynamo at wide receiver, running back and defensive back, and has shown he can even handle the quarterback position as well. With electric speed and leaping ability, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Harvey nab an interception and a receiving touchdown in the same game this season, something he did last year.
3. Weston Wolff, WR at Venice — Defense will have to pick their poison going up against Wideman and Wolff. Both standing at 6-foot-5 with a massive catch radius, it will be tough for both receivers to stay covered for long. Wolff proved himself as a sophomore (70 catches for 796 yards) and has only added size and strength as a junior.
4. John Busha, QB at Charlotte — Leading one of the best offenses in the area, Busha will be a stat sheet stuffer on Friday nights. Playing for the injured Alex Muse last year, Busha showed he has what it takes — scoring six total touchdowns and rushing for 157 yards on 37 carries in 2018. With weapons like Harvey, Freddie Fletcher and Malakai Menzer at his disposal, the sky is the limit for Busha.
5. Charles Brantley, DB at Venice — It’s tough to be that exciting to watch at cornerback in high school, but Brantley bucks the trend. The junior set the Riverview school record with nine interceptions for a team that went to the state semifinals, and picked up an offer from Florida State this offseason. Combined with his signature trash talk and physical play, Brantley should be a walking highlight reel on Friday nights.
6. Brian Taylor, RB at Venice — Any player running behind the massive offensive line at Venice is in for a big season. Just look at the 2018 Sun Player of the Year Brandon Gregory, who scored over 30 touchdowns last year as he powered Venice to the state semifinals. In an offseason where he added strength and balance to his game, Taylor showed he’s more than capable of replacing Gregory with 174 yards and two touchdowns against defending state champion Lakeland in the spring game.
7. Malakai Menzer, LB at Charlotte — Menzer is one of the Tarpons’ top defenders at linebacker, but has the versatility to roam the field at different positions.
In addition to outside linebacker, Menzer could also see snaps at running back and receiver. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound athlete is a downhill player that can stuff the run and drop into coverage with ease. His size and speed make him one of the more formidable defenders in the area.
8. Solomon Luther, DB/WR at Port Charlotte — The younger brother of former Pirate athlete TJ Luther, Solomon possesses many of the same traits. At 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, Luther is a rangy defensive back who can leap with the best of them. Don’t be surprised to see him come down with a timely interception or break up a key third-down pass as he look to step up for the Pirates defense in his senior season. He is also slated to get plenty of offensive looks at receiver this year.
9. Thomas Shrader, OL at Venice — It’s really tough for an offensive lineman to be exciting to watch, but that shows just how dominant Shrader is on the line. At 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds, Shrader bullies around opposing defenders and will make big lanes for Brian Taylor to dance through this season. A recent FSU commit, Shrader showed he can play with anyone last year as he pushed around St. Thomas Aquinas players with ease in the 7A state semifinals.
10. Logan Rogers, QB at Port Charlotte — In his debut season fresh out of Pop Warner, Rogers threw for 14 touchdowns and ran for seven more, but will have to adjust to life without dynamic weapons Tyler Perry and Marc Jean-Louis on offense. However, Rogers has shown some improved accuracy and command of the offense this summer and will likely lead his team in a shootout or two this year.