TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – At his introductory press conference in December, Willie Taggart said that he and his staff had a lot of work to do on the recruiting trail.
Two months later – a span that probably felt even shorter to Taggart than it sounds – the work is done, the National Letters of Intent are signed and faxed and Florida State’s new football coach can step back to take a look at the fruits of his labor.
Safe to Taggart likes what he sees.
“What a great day to be a Nole,” Taggart said Wednesday afternoon. “Really excited about our recruiting class. Really, really excited about the guys we had sign with us.”
And for good reason.
After inheriting a group that most major recruiting services ranked in the bottom half of the country when he took over, Taggart brought about a nearly unprecedented surge in quality players and, as a result, the Seminoles shot up the rankings at a breakneck pace.
Per the 247Sports Composite, a service which averages rankings from 247Sports, Rivals and ESPN, the Seminoles had the 64th-best group in the country when Taggart was named FSU’s head coach on Dec. 6.
But by the time the last NLI had come in on Wednesday – and after Taggart and his assistants spent near-countless hours on the road, in the air and in hotel rooms – FSU had climbed all the way to No. 9 in the Rivals rankings and to No. 11 per both ESPN and 247Sports.
That places the Seminoles ahead of rival Florida, within shouting distance of ACC foes Miami and Clemson, and well above other college football heavyweights like Auburn, LSU and Michigan.
“I thought our coaches did an unbelievable job, just getting on the road and just going out and working,” Taggart said. “Some guys were all over the place, trying to make sure we got the best guys for us.”
Recruiting rankings, of course, are a little like weather forecasts – a good indicator of things to come but never a guarantee.
Which is why Taggart, like most coaches, prefers to look at the number of needs a class fills, rather than the number of stars by their names.
And, to that end, he came away pleased.
Seminoles fans used to bemoaning a lack of depth at the receiver position will be glad to hear that Taggart and Co. inked five receivers on Wednesday, a group highlighted by 6-3, 200-pound Warren Thompson from Seffner, Fla., near Tampa.
Tre’Shaun Harrison, a rare FSU signee from Seattle, Wash., Jordan Young, D’Marcus Adams and “athlete” Keyshawn Helton round out a strong group of pass-catchers that doubles FSU’s count of scholarship receivers.
That they’re all coming in during a year in which FSU must replace top target Auden Tate doesn’t hurt, either.
“In order to do some of the things that we want to do, it was important to get some guys in the receiver position,” said Taggart, who noted that he prefers to have 11 scholarship receivers on the roster. “I’m really happy with the ones we landed. That’s pretty cool.”
The Seminoles loaded up at an equally important spot on the other side of the ball by signing four defensive ends in the wake of junior starter Josh Sweat’s declaration for the NFL draft.
Xavier Peters, a 6-4, 225-pound Ohio native, and Malcolm Lamar (6-4, 250), a teammate of Thompson’s at Armwood High School, headline the group, and they’ll be joined by Dennis Briggs Jr. (6-4, 252) and Jamarcus Chatman (6-2, 258).
FSU could use some reinforcement at the position. Not only did the Seminoles lose Sweat, but they must also contend with the surprise departure of Jalen Wilkerson, an experienced reserve who was expected to contribute in 2018.
Besides, when it comes to talented pass-rushers, Taggart says he can never really have enough.
“Because of the style of defense we’re going to do, that is an area that we needed to get some guys in, and thinking more (toward) the future,” Taggart said. “I think each one of those individuals is a really good football player. I’m excited to get them in training camp and allow them to come out and just compete.
“I think some of them, they’re going to come in and try to take somebody’s job. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
FSU also stocked up on the offensive line (Jalen Goss, Christian Meadows, Chaz Neal; Christian Armstrong) and at defensive back (Jaiden Woodbey, Isaiah Bolden, A.J. Lytton, Asante Samuel Jr.), running back (Anthony Grant), linebacker (Amari Gainer) tight end (Camren McDonald) and defensive tackle (Robert Cooper).
About the only position the Seminoles didn’t add to was quarterback, although Taggart downplayed the significance of that.
While he would have preferred to have a signal-caller, the Seminoles do still have three quarterbacks – two with extensive starting experience – that are redshirt juniors or younger.
“We’d have liked to have signed a quarterback in this class, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world that we didn’t,” Taggart said. “It’s important that we sign one next year. (And) it will be great having the whole year to make sure you get the right guy in here.”
Speaking of next year, yes, Taggart is already excited about FSU’s class of 2019, too.
While he’s no doubt pleased at what he and his newly-assembled staff were able to achieve in a short timeframe, the thought of what they can do given a full year on the trail brings a smile to his face.
“I can only imagine having a year here, to be able to recruit and be able to do a great job evaluating the guys we want in here,” Taggart said. “I can only imagine what that’s going to be like.”
First, though, Taggart has more pressing priorities.
“The next four days, ‘Coach T’ is taking his wife away from here,” he said with a wide grin, “and we’re going to enjoy each other.”