CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It took longer than anyone expected for Willie Taggart to first be asked about his quarterbacks, Taggart included.
It wasn’t until the end of Taggart’s first session at Thursday’s ACC Football Kickoff – 12 questions in about 10 minutes – that someone broke the ice and asked where things stood under center.
“This is the last question, and someone finally asked me about the quarterbacks, huh?” Taggart said with a smile.
Once that seal was broken, however, the quarterback queries hardly stopped.
After taking part in a formal press conference, Taggart then made his way to a 40-minute “breakout” session with print and web reporters, all of whom were more than happy to pepper him with questions about Deondre Francois, James Blackman and Bailey Hockman.
Most importantly, Taggart confirmed that Francois, the 2016 ACC offensive rookie of the year who quarterbacked FSU to a 10-3 record and an Orange Bowl victory as a redshirt freshman, is fully recovered from knee surgery and is expected to be a full participant in fall camp.
Francois injured the knee in last year’s opener, missed the rest of the season and was a limited participant during spring practice.
Given that the Seminoles have only three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, Francois’ health is of paramount importance – whether as a starter or a reserve, he has a key role to play this season.
“He’ll be ready to go,” Taggart said.
Taggart also revealed that he’s pleased with the effort Francois has put forth to become a leader in the locker room. Following an off-field incident in the spring, Taggart recommended that Francois spend more time with his teammates, and Francois apparently got the message.
Taggart said Thursday that Francois has moved out of his apartment, is now living on campus and has “done everything we’ve asked him to do.”
“He’s always around us,” sophomore running back Cam Akers said. “Even with him (having been) hurt, he’s very involved in everything we do. Seven-on-sevens, he’s there. Workouts, he’s there.”
Asked bluntly how any of Francois’ previous issues might affect the quarterback race, Taggart offered an equally blunt answer: “It won’t.
“He’s handled his consequences. He’s moved on. That’s behind us.”
What’s ahead is quarterback competition in which it’s hard to peg a favorite.
As Francois and Blackman both have a season’s worth of starting experience, it stands to reason that they would have a leg up on Hockman, the redshirt freshman who has yet to take a collegiate snap.
However, with Francois sidelined during the spring, Hockman took several more first- and second-team reps than he might have otherwise. And Taggart’s comments on Thursday suggest that he put those reps to good use.
“I know everyone talks about James Blackman and Deondre Francois, and we’re leaving out Bailey Hockman,” Taggart said. “He’s another quarterback on our roster that’s talented and is going to have an opportunity to compete for the job.”
While Taggart doesn’t yet know who his quarterback will be, he does know what it will take to win the job.
All three, he said, have the arm, the legs, the brain and the toughness required to get the Seminoles’ offense in gear.
But FSU won’t reach its full potential unless the man under center is a capable leader.
Not just for the offense. For the entire team.
“That’s the characteristic that I’m looking for out of our guys,” Taggart said. “They understand that. They’ve been at work with that since Day 1, since we’ve been here and throughout the summer and throughout training camp.”
Akers said that Blackman, a fellow freshman a year ago, has been impressive in that regard.
Adding some bulk to his famously slim frame hasn’t hurt either.
“(He’s made) a lot of progress, as far his leadership,” Akers said. “His physical appearance, he’s gotten a lot bigger. And taking on that leadership role, as a quarterback, I’ve seen a lot of progress from him.”
Added Taggart: “He is not the quiet guy or reserved guy (that keeps) to himself. Blackman is outgoing, and he is going to talk to everyone. He is going to be around everyone. … If he trusts you and sees that you have his back, he will give you the shirt off his back.”
Taggart, of course, will make the final call in the race ahead. But that doesn’t mean he’s not still an interested observer.
For the first time in his career, he has three quarterbacks who believes can get the job done.
“From that standpoint, I can sleep a little better,” he said with a laugh.
Beyond that, though, count Taggart among the thousands of Florida State fans simply curious to see how it all shakes out.
“I’m just like the rest of you,” he said. “I can’t wait to see who separates themselves as we go into the season. And as soon as they do that, we will let you all know who our quarterback will be.”