TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Like every coach in America, Willie Taggart believes that his 2019 signing class is more than just the sum of its star ratings.
And while there’s plenty of “star power” in Florida State’s class of 2019 – both Rivals and 247Sports rate FSU’s crop so far as the best in the state and among the national Top 15 – Taggart’s interest in his newcomers extends far beyond their abilities on the field.
Changing the culture at Florida State has been a primary theme for Taggart since taking over in Tallahassee a little more than 12 months ago. And, beginning with this year’s signing class – his first full-cycle class as FSU’s head coach – Taggart can start making wholesale changes.
“I think, all those guys in this class, that’s the one thing I’m excited about,” Taggart said Wednesday afternoon. “They all share a lot of the same common values and what we want in the football program.
“And I think this class is going to have a tremendous effect on our football program. just with them integrating with the guys that we have here and trying to change the culture to the way we want. This class is going to help get us closer to that.”
Taggart’s demands for his culture have been clear since Day 1. He wants great football players and great students who have great character.
All three aren’t necessarily a requirement from the day a player sets foot on campus – Taggart memorably said in his introductory press conference that if a player has two of the three criteria, he can work with them to improve the third – but there’s certainly no rule that says he can’t have them all, either.
And although the majority of the newest Noles won’t enroll for some time, Taggart and his staff have known them long enough to have a good feel for what they’re getting.
Which is a stark contrast to a year ago, when Taggart had all of two weeks before the start of the early signing period.
“I think you look at a lot of these kids, they’re smart,” Taggart said. “They’re tough. They’re highly driven in what they get accomplished and getting better.
“And I think those are all things you need in trying to build a program to a winning program and to a championship-caliber football team.”
Beyond all that, Taggart wants players who want to play for Florida State.
Yes, that sounds fairly obvious.
But Taggart doesn’t want players who simply think that playing at FSU will offer a clear path to a career in pro football, although it might.
And he doesn’t want players who simply think that the Seminoles’ helmet looks cool, or that want a great view for when Osceola and Renegade take the field before home games, although those are some pretty nice perks.
Taggart wants players who understand the culture that’s coming together at Florida State, who feel they personally align with that culture, and who can’t imagine playing anywhere else.
None of that, of course, is an even substitute for talent. (There’s a reason that one of Taggart’s three criteria is to be a great player.) But Taggart believes that talent alone will only take the Seminoles so far as they embark on their journey back to the nation’s elite.
“We’re not going to do it without men like that (who) believe in the vision,” he said. “I go back to having young men that are passionate about Florida State University, and it’s going to be that way. It’s hard to win and win consistently enough if you don’t have the passion and love for your school.
“We’ve got to make sure we bring in individuals that have the love and passion for our university and make sure we go out and represent it the right way.”
That passion extends to players on the current roster, too.
Aside from landing players at positions of need – the Seminoles signed three offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and three linebackers – Taggart was also encouraged by the way several of his players rallied around the program’s recent recruiting efforts.
He singled out DeCalon Brooks, Amari Gainer, Janarius Robinson, Jalen Goss, Chaz Neal, Stanford Samuels III and Marvin Wilson as players who decided to stay in Tallahassee and host recruits on the crucial final weekend before the early signing period began.
They all stayed despite the fact that Florida State wrapped up its fall semester the previous week, meaning they were all otherwise free to go home and get a head start on the holidays.
“They wanted to help their team,” Taggart said. “They stayed back, hosted the kids, tried to show them a good time, but (were) also making sure they were the right kind of kid we want to bring in.
“So, I’m really thankful for what they’ve done. Because they didn’t have to do that.”