TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A little more than two weeks after his introductory press conference, Florida State head coach Willie Taggart met with the media Thursday to discuss a variety of topics. Taggart touched on FSU’s efforts on the recruiting trail and the impact of the new early signing period, as well as his impressions from the Seminoles’ bowl practices and what his plans are for the next few weeks.
Here are five things you need to know from that conversation:
A strong start in recruiting, but a stronger finish is coming: Florida State’s first day in the inaugural early signing period got a big boost Wednesday night, when Jaiden Woodbey, a California native who ESPN.com rates as the No. 3 safety prospect in the country, surprised the college football world by signing with Florida State over a host of would-be suitors.
Woodbey put a bow on a small but talented first-day crop for Taggart and the Seminoles. The 6-3, 217-pound defensive back joined offensive lineman Christian Armstong (6-4, 328), defensive tackle Robert Cooper (6-2, 365) and linebacker Amari Gainer (6-3, 205) as the first official members of Florida State’s signing class of 2018.
The early signing period began Wednesday and runs through Friday. The traditional National Signing Day then follows on Feb. 7, 2018.
“I’m excited about the ones that signed already,” Taggart said. “I think we have some really good football players we’ve signed. I know when it’s all said and done, we’re going to have one heck of a class, and some guys that are going to get in the fold.”
Woodbey, Armstrong, Cooper and Gainer have laid a strong foundation for that group, and while Taggart is looking forward to building on that foundation, he doesn’t necessarily believe that this class will be a particularly large one.
He said he expects to sign “16 to 18” prospects, and, with that in mind, his focus is on finding quality rather than quantity.
“We’ve got to make sure we get the right guys,” Taggart said. “And not just fill in the class just to fill it. That’s not going to help our football program going forward.”
Taggart recruiting more than just prospects: In a sense, Taggart hasn’t stopped recruiting since he arrived in Tallahassee.
Not only is he busy selling his vision for Florida State to prep players, he’s also doing the same for potential assistant coaches and the players on FSU’s current roster.
“I’ve been recruiting my tail off,” he said. “Recruiting newcomers, recruiting our current guys, recruiting coaches. I’ve just been recruiting, recruiting, recruiting.”
Florida State has several draft-eligible players who have yet to declare their future plans – including standouts Jacques Patrick, Tarvarus McFadden and Demarcus Christmas – as well as a locker room full of players wondering how they fit in to new schemes and philosophies.
Taggart said that he has enjoyed getting to know his new team, even if learning more than 100 new names in a short period of time is a tall order.
“It’s been pretty cool, because a lot of the guys are coming up to me, getting to know me and talking to me,” he said. “That hadn’t really happened when I’ve taken over other programs so fast. But I think it’s unique here now, because I get to see these guys practice and that hadn’t been the case before. But it’s cool, just sitting in your office and guys come by (and say), ‘Hey, Coach, are you busy?’ (And I say), ‘No, never too busy for you guys.’”
As for the remaining open positions on his staff, Taggart has adopted a similar philosophy to the one he’s taken on the recruiting trail: There are plenty of coaches who want to be at Florida State. It’s his job to find the ones who fit.
“I’m not going to rush to get a coaching staff here (just) to try to establish a recruiting class midway through,” Taggart said. “…I’m going to get the right guys in here to help build this football program.”
Recruiting at Florida State a little different than at previous stops: During his first press conference, Taggart joked about how tough it was to recruit against Florida State during his time as the head coach at South Florida.
“Found a way to get on the right side of that train,” he said with a laugh after being hired at Florida State.
Turns out that recruiting with a Florida State logo on his polo shirt has lived up to Taggart’s expectations.
“You get to the front of the line and that’s pretty cool,” Taggart said. “For me, it’s going to different because you’re not necessarily chasing guys. There are a lot of young men that want to be here, (and I’m) just finding the right fit for Florida State University. It’s great that so many young men out there want to be here and find the right fit and the right guys for who we want to be as a football program.”
Woodbey’s recruitment perhaps best illustrates that dynamic. Woodbey had barely been on Florida State’s radar before Taggart arrived, but Taggart was able to make contact with Woodbey, bring him in for an official visit and secure a commitment in the span of a little more than a week.
“This is a dream school for Jaiden,” Taggart said. “So he was very, very excited that I reached out to him. He was so excited to get down here and see Tallahassee, see the university, and meet some of our people here. Along with his brother – his brother has been a Florida State fan for a long, long time. I mean, even more than Jaiden.
So, it was kind of like a family affair: Folks that really enjoy Florida State, love Florida State, and wanted to be a part of it. Once we got down here, got around some of our players and see the campus and everything, he just felt at home, and felt this was a place that he wanted to be.”
Bowl practices provide first impressions of roster: With a numerical roster in his back pocket, Taggart has made his way to Florida State’s Dunlap practice fields to get his first look at what he’s inheriting.
Given the way that the Seminoles have recruited in recent years, it’s no surprise that the new coach likes what he sees.
“Watching and seeing guys run around, it’s exciting,” Taggart said. “I can’t wait to really put my stamp on it and get rolling. But, more importantly, I can’t wait to continue to get to know these guys. That’s the most important thing.”
Taggart sees talent across the roster, but he’s also got a few changes in mind for when the Seminoles move forward.
“We’re going to do some things differently,” he said. “I’m excited about that as well.”
One player already feeling the impact of Taggart’s arrival is quarterback Deondre Francois. Still recovering from a knee injury, Francois won’t be on the field for FSU’s Independence Bowl matchup with Southern Mississippi. But Taggart has made sure that Francois stays involved with the team – he’s reportedly in charge of FSU’s in-practice music playlist – while establishing his expectations for the future.
“With Francois, we’ve had a chance to talk, talk about our vision, and talk about what I expect of him as a quarterback on the football team,” Taggart said. “But, right now, I just want him to be around this football team and be with his teammates and be supportive with his teammates and finish the season.”
Next stop, Shreveport. And more recruiting: Taggart described the last few weeks as “go, go, go” and he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. He’ll be with the Seminoles in Shreveport, but plans on continuing to recruit before and after the game. (NCAA rules allow for electronic communication from Dec. 8-Jan. 11, but no in-person contact.)
“Recruit, recruit, recruit,” Taggart said. “Coaches and players.”
And somewhere along the way, Taggart will find time to get finalize his family’s move from Eugene, Ore., to Tallahassee. He said he’d like to have that completed and his staff in place before focusing all of his efforts on the final stretch before February’s signing day.
“There is a lot of work to be done,” Taggart said. “(I’m going to) enjoy Christmas and say ‘Hi’ to Santa Claus, and probably catch a ride with him somewhere else.”