TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart was all smiles during Peter Warrick’s recent visit to Florida State, particularly when Warrick learned that his No. 9 jersey would be retired at an FSU home game this fall.
There was a time, however, not so long ago, that Taggart wasn’t so happy to see him.
Not after Warrick ruined Taggart’s senior year at Bradenton’s Manatee High with a late, game-winning punt return for a touchdown for crosstown rival Southeast in 1993.
And not after Warrick singlehandedly sunk Taggart and Manatee with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 14-9 Southeast victory the year before.
“They didn’t win it,” Taggart says with a big grin, more than 25 years later. “He won it.”
Or, as Warrick more succinctly put it:
“I gave him the business.”
Those two games – Taggart is a year Warrick’s senior – are just two chapters of a story that nearly spans both men’s entire lives.
It began in the Bradenton-Sarasota suburb of Palmetto, where the two grew up, and continued onto the local youth football fields, where they first met as rivals – Warrick for the Manatee Broncos and Taggart for the Palmetto Eagles.
“Me and Coach Taggart, we were going against each other since I was a little kid,” Warrick said. “I think I always beat him. I think.”
Despite Warrick having the upper hand during the two’s high-school meetings, both he and Taggart led their respective programs to great heights. Warrick’s teams went a combined 29-1 and won back-to-back state titles in 1993 and 94, while Taggart quarterbacked Manatee to a state championship as a junior and another appearance in the title game as a senior.
For the next several years, Taggart and Warrick travelled different paths – Warrick to a star-studded career with Bobby Bowden at Florida State and a five-year run in the NFL, and Taggart to Western Kentucky, where he immediately transitioned into coaching after four years as a starting quarterback.
But they maintained contact during that time, with a burgeoning friendship built on a long-held respect for each other’s abilities and accomplishments.
“It’s just great,” Warrick said. “We grew up together, and we’re still friends now.”
Which made it that much sweeter, especially for Warrick, when Taggart was introduced as Florida State’s head football coach on Dec. 5, 2017.
After spending their entire lives as competitors, the two could finally say they were part of the same team.
“When I first heard about it, I was so excited,” Warrick said. “Just to think about not only a new coach here, but a person that I know. A person that I’m friends with, a person that I know personally. It was always a dream for him, and now he’s got that opportunity. Now he’s got that chance.”
Added Taggart: “We always played against each other, but now I’m a Nole. We’re together.”
During his recent stop in Tallahassee, Warrick toured one of Taggart’s practices and took extra time to visit with the Seminoles’ current crop of receivers.
He likes what he sees from the likes of D.J. Matthews, Keith Gavin and Tamorrion Terry.
More than that, though, Warrick likes the energy and excitement out on the practice fields. It’s a familiar feeling that’s been restored by a familiar face.
“He’s changed everything,” Warrick said. “The atmosphere — Everybody’s running from place to place, no walking here. It’s great times.
“When I walked in here today, it looked like how it was when I was playing for Bobby.”