Willie Taggart Interview, April 6
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – First it was Peter Warrick and Odell Haggins.
Then it was Derrick Brooks.
A few days later, it was Bobby Bowden.
All four of those Florida State football legends have spoken to the Seminoles’ football team over the last week, providing an intensive crash course in the history and tradition of one of the country’s most prestigious programs.
Class was in session again Friday morning when Charlie Ward, the 1993 Heisman Trophy winner and the most decorated player in college football history, stopped by the Albert J. Dunlap Practice Facilities.
By now, the Seminoles have the routine down. When coach Willie Taggart introduced Ward, he needed only to say, “The Great …” before his players finished his sentence with, “… Charlie Ward.”
Ward, recently named the head boys’ basketball coach at the Florida State University School (Florida High) in Tallahassee, shared a brief message encouraging the Seminoles to finish spring camp on a strong note, work together and make sure to learn from their successes and failures alike.
He wrapped up by telling the team that he looked forward to seeing them inside Doak Campbell Stadium next week at the Garnet and Gold Spring Game (April 14, 6 p.m.)
“I wanted to get all our Noles back together and realize this is their team,” Taggart said. “To me, that’s what Florida State is all about. The family and the passion people have for Florida State football.”
Here are highlights from Friday’s practice.
Brief detour in Augusta: Taggart has been a fixture at various Florida State sporting events, having popped up at basketball games and even the Golden Nole Gala earlier this week.
On Thursday, he took his support on the road when he, FSU president John Thrasher and director of athletics Stan Wilcox made their way to Augusta, Ga., where Seminole golfer Harry Ellis was competing in the first round at The Masters.
Like most golf enthusiasts, Taggart spent his first visit to Augusta National Golf Club in awe of the sights and sounds at the venerable course, and wowed by the power and precision of the game’s top professionals.
“It was like a postcard,” Taggart said. “I could have dropped some food of the ground and picked it up and eaten it, as nice as it was. And to see them hit the ball the way they do was unbelievable. … It kind of ticked me off a little bit – my golf game, I can’t hit it like that.”
Taggart was part of sizable group of Florida State supporters in Augusta to cheer on both Ellis, a fifth-year senior who earned a place in the field as the 2017 British Amateur champion, as well as former FSU All-American Daniel Berger.
“It was really good to go around and watch Harry the entire time and know that he’s only going to get better as he goes. It’s pretty cool to have two guys playing in The Masters and be there supporting them. And to see a lot of our fans there, too.”
Sights and Sounds, April 6
Scrimmage No. 2 up next: Weather permitting, the Seminoles will move inside Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday for their second of two scrimmages in advance of the Garnet and Gold Game.
Consider this scrimmage a natural evolution of the first, which Taggart deemed a “situational scrimmage.” This time around, the Seminoles will do everything short of kickoffs and punts to simulate a live game.
“I want guys to go out and execute, and be consistent doing it,” Taggart said. “I want to go out and do the things we asked them to do and things we’ve been practicing and eliminate the mistakes that we had in the last scrimmage. …
“Now it’s putting things together and seeing more consistent play out of our guys.”
The Seminoles will start each drive at the 35-yard line and play things out from there.
Taggart said that, while every day at practice is an opportunity to compete, simulating a game for an extended amount of time tends to dial things up a few notches.
“Whenever there’s 11 on 11 competition, you really want to see the guys who can go out and execute at a high level and do it consistently,” he said.
“That’s what we’re looking for at the end of the day – Who can consistently do the things we’re asking to do and make the plays that we need to make?”
Note that all scrimmages are closed to the public.
High praise for Brooks: Given his lineage and upbringing, perhaps it should come as no surprise that DeCalon Brooks has emerged as one of the pleasant surprises of spring camp.
A 5-10, 211-pound redshirt freshman – and also the son of FSU great Derrick Brooks – Brooks has spent ample team with the first-team defense this spring, where he’s often slotted in as a versatile outside linebacker.
Brooks’ size makes him an ideal candidate for the linebacker/defensive back hybrid (think the “Star” position in recent FSU defense) that is prevalent in modern college football.
Brooks first caught Taggart’s eye a few weeks ago, when he asserted himself as one of the team’s top performers in “The Chase” offseason conditioning drills, despite coming off offseason knee surgery.
“He’s out there every single day,” Taggart said. “I saw that throughout ‘The Chase,’ how hard he was working and how bad he wants to get out there and compete and show that he can play at this level.
“He’s done a great job this spring. I’m really impressed with what he’s done.”
Other highlights: Stanford Samuels III got things started in style by tracking down a deflected pass and intercepting it early in the day. … Freshman Jaiden Woodbey later got in on the action with an untouched pick-six of his own. … Quarterbacks aren’t hit during practice, so it’s hard to say just how successful the play was, but James Blackman showed off some nice moves as a runner, taking off to his left and then cutting back and slipping between two would-be tacklers down the left sideline. The play was blown dead, but Blackman seemed to have his defenders beat. … Naseir Upshur flashed his hands with an off-balance, fingertip catch over the middle of the field. The pass had some nice touch from Bailey Hockman, too.