TAMPA –Gene Deckerhoff arrived at Florida State in 1976 and took over as the Seminoles’ football play-by-play announcer in 1979.
Over the next 40-plus years, he travelled on hundreds of spring booster tour stops, first with Bobby Bowden and later with Jimbo Fisher.
He’s heard countless stories, watched as the coaches posed for thousands of photographs (and posed for more than a few himself), and rallied crowds with his famous, “3-2-1 …. Touchdown, Florida State!” call more times than he can remember.
But the man who has seen virtually everything during his time at FSU has never seen anything quite like what he has with Willie Taggart over the last few weeks.
So he said often during a recent Seminole Boosters tour stop in the Tampa Bay area, which included a downtown rally, a private, VIP dinner and an 18-hole golf tournament in the span of less than 24 hours.
“I have not seen the Seminole family as fired up about football in 42 years,” Deckerhoff said.
Looking out at the crowd gathered at Tampa’s Armature Works building to hear Taggart speak – and the line to get a picture with him – it was hard to argue.
Nearly 500 Seminoles fans attended the rally, which featured plenty of refreshments, a live D.J. and FSU football highlights on oversized projector screens.
The program featured Deckerhoff recreating some of his favorite calls from recent seasons – including Levonta Taylor’s interception return for a touchdown at Florida – before turning things over to Taggart for a message and question-and-answer session.
Taggart, of course, was the main attraction. He met fans of all ages, spoke of his love and admiration for Florida State and had the crowd laughing with a tale of an encounter with a particularly famous football alum a few months ago.
It was during FSU’s trio to the Independence Bowl, when Deion Sanders came to visit the team in Shreveport. He and Taggart were walking through the hotel lobby when they came across a current Seminole.
That player, with not so much as an extra glance at Sanders, just nodded and said, “What’s up, Coach?”
“I was like, ‘Do you not realize this is Deion Sanders?’” Taggart said.
The story was told in jest, but it highlighted a point that Taggart has often underscored during his brief time in Tallahassee: Taggart saw a disconnect between the current generation of players and the ones that came before, and, in his mind, that’s just not right.
“This is your program,” he told a group of about 30 football alums at the Seminole Boosters Quarterback Classic golf tournament a day later.
But it’s Taggart’s program now, too.
That much is clear after sold-out tour stops around the state, and with more still to come.
“It’s pretty cool,” Taggart said. “That’s been special. Everyone asks me if I get tired of (being on the road). How can you get tired of all this energy? Of all this excitement?”
“You embrace the excitement, you see how everyone is really passionate about our football program and where we’re going with it.”
Speaking of which, Taggart provided a few updates about where his team stands as the calendar flips to summer:
Injured Noles on the mend: When Taggart first saw quarterback Deondre Francois moving side-to-side during a recent game of ping-pong in the FSU player’s lounge, his first thought was that Francois and his surgically repaired knee needed to head back to the couch.
“He got me a little nervous there,” Taggart said with a smile. “’Hey, no more ping-pong, you need to go play (the football video game) ‘Madden.’ But he was moving around pretty good.”
Which is welcome news for the Seminoles as they inch closer to fall camp in August.
Taggart said most of the Seminoles who missed spring have made good progress and specifically mentioned that linebacker Emmett Rice is on track to participate in fall camp.
Same thing, only different: For as much buzz as there’s been around Florida State’s new-look defense under coach Harlon Barnett, the differences might not be immediately apparent before the snap.
Taggart said the Seminoles will primarily run a 4-2-5 base defense, similar to what they have in recent years. That means four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs – including the “star” position made famous by the likes of Lamarcus Joyner and Jalen Ramsey.
The difference, Taggart said, will be in the way those players are coached and what they’re asked to do.
“I think the way we run it is probably going to be different than what (FSU fans) have seen before,” Taggart said.
“The biggest thing is being well coached and being where you’re supposed to be. We feel like if we have our guys in position to make plays, chances are our guys will make it. So, it’s really important that we don’t confuse them and allow them to be where they’re supposed to be.”
Taggart also continued a spring trend in praising DeCalon Brooks, who spent most of camp working at the “star.” He and freshman Jaiden Woodbey seem to have the inside track for that job heading into the fall.
“(Brooks) actually had a really good spring, him and Jaiden Woodbey are playing that position,” Taggart said. “(Woodbey) also had a really good spring. So, we feel good about that position and love the competition we’ve got at the position. Both guys are doing a good job at it.”
No ‘must-haves’ in facilities: As FSU athletics prepares its next wave of football facility upgrades, there has been plenty recent headlines and speculation about the best way to proceed.
Taggart has a simple wish list:
“Whatever it takes to win ballgames,” he said.
Pressed for specifics, or a list of “must-have” amenities, Taggart replied, “I’m not a ‘must-have’ guy. I want a football team to work really well and go win some ballgames. …
“And for the student athletes, (it’s about) getting to train in the best. That’s what they want. We all want that for the student-athletes. We have high expectations for our student-athletes, so it’s best that they have what’s best.”