TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart loves to have former Florida State players and coaches visit his team, and he loves to have them share a few words with the players once their practices are complete.
But when the visitor in question is Bobby Bowden, and the visit is more than eight years in the making, well, it just can’t wait.
So, after the Seminoles went through their pre-practice routine, Taggart put a halt on the proceedings and gathered the team at midfield to hear from the legendary Bowden, who coached FSU to more than 300 wins and two national titles from 1976-2009.
Making his first appearance at a Florida State practice since his retirement, Bowden shared a brief message that offered his support to both Taggart and the team.
He also smiled and said how great it was to have an indoor practice facility and recalled the time in 2007 when the Seminoles spent nearly an entire week leading up to a game unable to practice because of rain.
“I don’t want people to think I’m looking over his shoulder,” Bowden said, motioning at Taggart. “I’m behind him all the way. He’s our man.”
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) April 4, 2018
That echoed a sentiment that Bowden expressed often, before and after his retirement – that he didn’t want any subsequent coaches to feel like he was hovering over them as they put their mark on things.
Taggart, however, has made it clear that he wants Bowden to be as involved with the football program – “his program,” as Taggart put it – as he likes.
In a recent interview with the Tallahassee Democrat, Taggart said he’d gladly provide Bowden with a reserved parking spot and a golf cart – anything he’d need to feel welcome on the practice fields.
And when introducing Bowden to the Seminoles, Taggart broke into a wide grin and called him, “The greatest coach – Coach Bobby Bowden.”
(Bowden, in his classic, self-deprecating fashion, then quipped, “He’s lying.”)
“I was really happy because he hadn’t been here, he told our team, in eight years,” Taggart said. “For me, there’s just something not right about that. To have him come out here and be around is great. And I told Coach he’s always welcome here. But it was also great for our team to hear from him.”
After his remarks, Bowden entertained a lengthy procession of current and former players, coaches and reporters looking for a handshake or a photograph.
Bowden shared moments with Taggart and assistants David Kelly and Irele Oderinde, as well as current players Cam Akers, George Cambpell and Alec Eberle.
He saw some familiar faces, too. Three of Bowden’s former players – Odell Haggins, Greg Frey and Mario Edwards – are on the current football staff. Haggins and Edwards listened to Bowden speak with their arms around each other in the huddle, while Frey caught up with Bowden for a few moments on the sideline.
Former Seminole defensive back and Athletics Hall-of-Famer John Crowe (1966-68) stopped by to say hello, as did former All-ACC lineman Ross Brannon (1996-2000) and head athletic trainer Jake Pfeil, who got his start under Bowden in the late 1990s.
For Taggart, Bowden’s visit was yet another piece – perhaps the biggest piece – of his quest to connect the modern era of FSU football with the pillars of the program’s past. In the last week, the Seminoles have heard from All-American receiver Peter Warrick and Hall-of-Famer Derrick Brooks, and more than 100 players are expected to return for the Garnet and Gold Game next week.
But without Bowden, Taggart said, it’s likely that none of them would have been at FSU in the first place.
“A lot of these guys, they haven’t been around him,” Taggart said. “And they should have. So it was more important for me that they get to see him and appreciate him. And hopefully Coach Bowden comes around a lot more often.”
DT Wilson out for spring: Taggart confirmed Wednesday morning that Marvin Wilson, a sophomore defensive tackle and one of FSU’s most promising young defenders, tore his MCL in a recent practice and would miss the remainder of spring camp.
The former five-star prospect, who played in 12 games as a freshman, is expected back by the start of fall practice in August.
“He’ll be back soon,” Taggart said.
News of Wilson’s injury came two weeks after senior receiver Nyqwan Murray sustained a torn meniscus on the first day practice.
Murray, like Wilson, is out for the rest of spring but Taggart is optimistic that he’ll be fine for the regular season.
Wilson, Taggart said, had been performing well in spring and was blossoming into a better player and leader before he got hurt. And while the team will miss Wilson over the next few weeks, they’re also relieved that the injury wasn’t worse.
“I hate it for him, but if there’s anyone that can bounce back, it’s Marvin,” Taggart said. “And, luckily, he won’t miss the season, so that’s great news for us.”
Specialists cool under fire: It’s a time-honored tradition for kickers around the country: Near the end of a practice, a coach will call upon him to kick a field goal. Make it, and things will get better – maybe practice will end early, maybe the team will get to skip post-practice running or get an unexpected day off.
Miss it, and the kicker bears the burden of 80-plus teammates cursing his name under their breath while running another lap.
For Ricky Aguayo, this type of pressure has become commonplace over the last few weeks. Because unlike most practices, which devote a certain amount of preset time to kicking, Aguayo has learned that Taggart might call his number at virtually any time – early in practice, midway through or at the very end. Sometimes all three.
“I like it,” Aguayo said. “Because Saturdays are going to be like that. … I feel like that will benefit me at the end of the day.”
Both Aguayo and Logan Tyler, the punter who also serves as Aguayo’s holder, said that the nature of Taggart’s offense means they must be ready at all times. No matter where the Seminoles are on the field, there’s a chance that they could be in position to kick in just a matter of seconds.
Tyler said that Taggart’s approach to special teams provides a more game-like dynamic. In a game, neither he nor Aguayo will get a do-over if they mishit a ball. They’ll get a handful of opportunities per game, at most. And, under Taggart, that’s what they get during practice.
“We have to make those count,” Tyler said. “Just like they do on Saturdays.”
Extra highlights: Taggart has often made it clear that injured players are expected to be as involved in practice as is physically possible. With that in mind, it was good to see Murray in attendance and engaged with his fellow receivers. Despite using crutches and wearing a thick knee brace, Murray made his way onto the field and shared tips and instructions between reps as his teammates went through 7 on 7 drills. … Cam Akers showed off some versatility, slipping out of the backfield and making an impressive catch with his fingertips for a long touchdown down the right sideline. … Receiver Ontaria Wilson showed off some sideline prowess, too, with a picturesque toe-tap and catch before falling out of bounds. … The second-team offense had a particularly nice sequence midway through practice. It started when Amir Rasul sped his way around the right corner and made his way down the sideline for a lengthy gain. On the next play, Bailey Hockman found Wilson for a deep, juggling catch in the end zone. …Safety Cyrus Fagan got the defense on the board with pick-six that had Taggart seeking him out to congratulate him personally. Levonta Taylor grabbed another interception a few moments later, and was on his way to the end zone before a whistle advanced to the next play. … Head softball coach Lonni Alameda, whose team is ranked 13th in the country, visited practice this morning.