TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Competition has been perhaps the biggest point of emphasis for Willie Taggart during the last few weeks, and that was never more apparent than on Wednesday morning at the Albert J. Dunlap Practice Fields.
Near the end of the 13thof 15 spring practices, the Seminoles divided into their respective Garnet and Gold teams and held their own separate practices under designated head coaches Mark Snyder and Raymond Woodie.
Woodie took his Garnet team to the indoor practice facility, while Snyder’s Gold squad held its session outside. Each coach ran his team through drills of his choosing and then broke down the post-practice huddles.
Ever since holding the spring game player draft on Saturday night, there’s been an overall sense that bragging rights are on the line. Players, coaches and even support staff have united under the banner of their given teams and, in some cases, spring game records have been kept for multiple years.
Woodie, for example, is looking for a second consecutive victory as a “head coach,” having guided his team to a victory last year at Oregon.
The Garnet and Gold Game is set for Saturday at 6 p.m., and tickets are available at Seminoles.com.
Wilson, Upshur making names for themselves: From “Jingle Joints” to “Shade Tree” and “Prime Time” to “Bobo,” Florida State’s football history is littered with colorful nicknames.
Two of the latest – “Pop” and “Pokey” – are making big strides in their first practices with Taggart and his staff.
“Pop” belongs to Naseir Upshur, a junior tight end from Philadelphia, while “Pokey” is the longtime moniker for Ontaria Wilson, a redshirt freshman defensive-back-turned-receiver from Ashburn, Ga.
Each nickname has a backstory that’s as unique as the names themselves:
“My grandma said I looked like a Pokemon,” Wilson said with a wide grin, referencing the popular Japanese game and T.V. franchise. “Ever since then, everybody’s been calling me that.”
As for Upshur, “My mom used to call me ‘Pumpkin Seed,’” he said. “As I got older, she started calling me ‘Poppy Seed,’ and now I’m ‘Pop.’”
Both players are looking to make names for themselves in Florida State’s new offense. Wilson has emerged as one of the surprise stars of spring after switching to offense during the first week of camp.
An under-the-radar prospect from a small town (population of about 4,000), Wilson redshirted a year ago and entered the spring hoping to stand out in a crowded defensive backs room.
A few weeks later, Wilson is a valuable member of a receivers group that seems long on talent but a little short on both depth and experience. Of FSU’s six scholarship receivers, only two – Nyqwan Murray and Keith Gavin – have more than 10 career catches. And Murray has missed nearly the entire spring with a knee injury.
Safe to say Wilson has been a welcome addition.
“The kid can make all kinds of catches,” Taggart said. “And then just the speed, you can’t teach that. And he runs like he’s a cross-country runner. I mean, he can run for days.”
Upshur, meanwhile, is part of a potential renaissance at tight end. Along with Tre’ McKitty, Gabe Nabers and Johnathan Vickers, Upshur has been a regular part of the passing game over the last few weeks, with his 6-foot-2, 243-pound frame proving a difficult matchup for defenders.
Upshur is a former four-star recruit who is still looking for his first career catch. He’s contributed on special teams in each of his first two seasons.
“This spring has been very great,” Upshur said. “I got an opportunity to make a lot of plays. … We’re fitting in very well, we’ve gotten a lot of balls thrown to us – like a lot of passes. Even back to back, sometimes.”
Christmas at the mayor’s office: With a practice guest list that includes some of the biggest names in FSU football history, Taggart has done plenty of looking back over the last few weeks. But he’s also making sure his players are looking forward, too.
As part of an initiative to get the Seminoles more involved in their communities and thinking ahead to life after football, fifth-year senior defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas on Wednesday visited the office of Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, where the two discussed ways that Christmas can one day pursue one of his passions – working with children and the homeless.
Gillum, who is also vying to become Florida’s next governor, believes that Christmas is well on his way. He offered praise for the way that Christmas sets an example for young kids and encouraged him to be a positive role model for youth from his hometown of Bradenton, Fla., and beyond. (Of note, Christmas and Taggart share an alma mater in Bradenton’s Manatee High.)
Extra highlights: D.J. Matthews made a pair of great grabs early in practice, one for a diving touchdown in the back of the end zone during short-yardage 7-on-7 drills, and one in which he leapt straight up and made a one-handed, fingertips catch. The latter had Taggart running over to congratulate him. … Walk-ons Andy Bien-Aime and Kris Dixon made their mark on special teams by teaming up to block a punt during special-teams drills. … A pair of national title-winning defensive linemen, Corey Simon and Jamal Reynolds, attended practice on Wednesday.
Up next: With the Garnet and Gold Game soon approaching, the Seminoles will practice Thursday afternoon and then take Friday off. They were previously scheduled to be off Thursday and practice Friday morning.