TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida State football team on Saturday evening drafted the foundations for the rosters that will make up next week’s Garnet and Gold Spring Game.
The draft process, however, started earlier this week with two names drawn from a hat and a specific set of instructions.
At random, FSU coach Willie Taggart chose linebackers coach Raymond Woodie to lead the Garnet team and defensive ends coach Mark Snyder to head up the Gold.
He then set the two coaches out on a mission: Lure two “free agents,” of each coach’s choosing, to their teams using any means permissible under NCAA rules.
The four players picked would likely have topped any Florida State fan’s wish list: quarterback James Blackman and defensive end Brian Burns for the Gold; defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas and receiver D.J. Matthews for the Garnet.
With those pieces set, the Seminoles gathered in their team meeting room following Saturday’s scrimmage for a three-round draft that was equal parts draft and dance party, thanks to a player-tailored playlist curated by center Alec Eberle.
When players weren’t dancing, cheering their newfound teammates or jeering their spring-game opponents, they took part in a draft process that was as busy, frantic and ceremonial as the one that will take place in Arlington, Texas, later this month.
As the Garnet and Gold staffs forged strategies in their respective meeting rooms, support staffers worked their phones and handed in picks to Taggart, the self-appointed commissioner who held court at the front of the room.
Taggart, channeling his inner Roger Goodell, announced each selection, and the player called then walked to the front of the room, posed for a picture with Taggart while holding his team’s jersey, and made his way to join his Garnet or Gold teammates down the hall. (Yes, once players were selected to a given team, they made sure to exert as much influence as possible over the picks that followed.)
“They get excited about it, and about putting their team together,” said Taggart, noting that the process brings out competitive instincts in players and coaches alike. “The thing I like about it is that every time we’ve done it, it’s ended up being a really good game.”
As for the draft itself, the pick philosophy wasn’t too far out of line with what one might see in an NFL draft – lots of emphasis on offensive and defensive lines, with quarterbacks and other skill positions sprinkled in.
In fact, with linemen at a premium thanks to a handful of injuries, nine of the first 15 picks were offensive linemen. Center Corey Martinez, running with the first-team offense while Eberle recovers from offseason surgery, went first, followed by Derrick Kelly and Landon Dickerson for the Garnet and Josh Ball and Abdul Bello for the Gold.
The Garnet team then made Stanford Samuels III the first non-lineman off the board. Other notable picks include Bailey Hockman to the Garnet (ensuring he and Blackman will be on opposing sides), Levonta Taylor, Kyle Meyers and Hamsah Nasirildeen joining Samuels in what should be a loaded Garnet secondary, and Jacques Patrick (Gold) and Cam Akers (Garnet) lining up on opposite sidelines. A pair of walk-ons, lineman Andrew Basham and defensive back Izaiah Prouse-Lackey, were also drafted in a show of respect from their coaches.
Taggart had final say over all selections and instituted a few rules to help ensure balance, but otherwise let his assistants have free reign over their teams.
Which provided some surprising insights into his staff’s perspective on the Seminoles’ roster.
“It gives you an opportunity to see how they think,” he said. “Sometimes, coaches don’t speak up. You get to see a lot of what they think of certain guys. That’s pretty cool.”.
The competition between Garnet and Gold started in earnest immediately following the draft, when unselected players went into a free-agent pool and fielded sales pitches from players and coaches hoping to “sign” them to their respective teams.
Some of the most coveted early free agents included running back Khalan Laborn, linebacker Amari Gainer, tight end Gabe Nabers and specialists Ricky Aguayo and Logan Tyler.
“It gives guys a chance to play with different guys, not just the ‘ones’ and the ‘twos,’” Taggart said. “It helps. When you’re in the season and someone goes down, you don’t want to be playing somebody you’re not accustomed to playing with.
“But it also keeps everybody fired up. … It makes it a lot more competitive.”
And not just among players and coaches, either. Taggart calls for the entire program to be split in half, which means colleagues in support staff, football operations and even sports information will be friendly foes for at least the next six days.
And it didn’t take long for the players to make their allegiances known, with each side seeming to like its chances against the other.
— Levonta Taylor (@LevontaTaylor) April 7, 2018
— Cyrus Fagan (@CyrusFagan) April 7, 2018
— Tamorrion Terry (@TT1Batman) April 8, 2018
— Odell Sheffield Jr. (@deontesheff9) April 8, 2018
Garnet and Gold Spring Game Draft Results
Coach: Raymond Woodie (Assistants: Harlon Barnett, David Kelly, Grey Frey and Donte Pimpleton)
QB Bailey Hockman (10th overall pick)
RB Cam Akers (34th)
WR D.J. Matthews (FA)
WR Tamorrion Terry (22nd)
WR Ontaria Wilson (31st)
OL Derrick Kelly (2nd)
OL Landon Dickerson (3rd)
OL Brady Scott (7th)
OL Mike Arnold (15th)
DT Demarcus Christmas (FA)
DT Cedric Wood (24th)
DT Ja’Len Parks (35th)
DE Janarius Robinson (14th)
DE Tre Lawson (30th)
LB Dontavious Jackson (11th)
LB DeCalon Brooks (26th)
DB Stanford Samuels III (6th)
DB Kyle Meyers (18th)
DB Levonta Taylor (19th)
DB Hamsah Nasirildeen (27th)
Coach Mark Snyder (Assistants: Walt Bell, Odell Haggins, Telly Lockette and Alonzo Hampton)
QB James Blackman (FA)
RB Jacques Patrick (32nd)
RB Amir Rasul (36th)
WR Keith Gavin (21st)
WR Deonte’ Sheffield (33rd)
TE Tre’ McKitty (29th)
OL Corey Martinez (1st)
OL Josh Ball (4th)
OL Andrew Basham (12th)
OL Abdul Bello (5th)
OL Christian Armstrong (16th)
DE Brian Burns (FA)
DE Walvenski Aime (17th)
DT Fredrick Jones (8th)
DT Cory Durden (9th)
LB Leonard Warner (13th)
DB Jaiden Woodbey (20th)
DB Cyrus Fagan (24th)
DB A.J. Westbrook (25th)
DB Izaiah Prouse-Lackey (28th)