WATCH: Willie Taggart’s full National Signing Day press conference
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart and the Florida State football team added six signees to their 2019 recruiting class on National Signing Day, and while the Seminoles are still looking to add to the group, Taggart on Wednesday afternoon met with reporters to talk about the newest Noles and also give updates on some happenings within the program. Here are highlights from that conversation:
‘Tribe19’ the latest step toward rebuilding culture: Ever since his first day on campus, more than a year ago, Taggart has stressed that he doesn’t simply want great players. He wants – and demands – great players who also fit into the culture and vision that he has laid out for the program.
That means signing players who excel on the football field, in the classroom and in their personal lives. And, in his latest crop of signees, Taggart feels he’s checked that box in a big way.
“This group that we signed really fit the culture we’re trying to bring,” he said. “I think we brought in some really good football players. But not only good football players, good young men.
“Young men that come from winning programs. Guys that understand how to win. I think, more importantly, guys that really wanted to be here.”
As part of a candid, 30-minute press conference, Taggart acknowledged that there has been some negativity surrounding the program in recent weeks, whether the result of FSU’s 5-7 record in 2018 or the result of decisions made regarding the coaching staff and roster.
That FSU’s signing class of 2019 bought in to his vision despite that negativity, Taggart believes says a lot about them.
“We’re going to coach them up, develop them to help us build this football team back to where we all want it to be,” he said.
Noles ‘have a pretty good plan’ at QB: Taggart didn’t shy away from the biggest elephant in the room: For the second consecutive season, the Seminoles did not sign a high school quarterback prospect. At least not yet. FSU was heavily involved with several QB recruits over the last few weeks, and Taggart seemed to be nodding toward that position when he said “Clearly there are some guys that we wanted that we didn’t get.”
That said, Taggart is hardly hitting the panic button. Even after dismissing senior Deondre Francois over the weekend, he still has the experienced James Blackman in the fold, as well as Louisville transfer Jordan Travis and walk-on Nolan McDonald, a former three-star prospect who turned down scholarship offers to join his brother, tight end Cam McDonald, at FSU.
FSU is hopeful that Travis can receive an NCAA waiver and be eligible to play this year. Beyond that, Taggart said that there is a plan in motion for the Seminoles to bolster their quarterback depth.
“I think it’s a pretty good plan,” he said. “I don’t necessarily want to discuss it right now, but I think we’ve got a pretty good plan of where we want to go.”
And, given, the advent of the NCAA’s transfer portal, it’s easier than ever for teams to pursue options from other schools. Taggart said that, because of the portal and the swell of potential transfers, “there’s always options for us.”
Another big day for ‘DBU’: In a recent video from the Pro Bowl, former FSU All-American Jalen Ramsey looked into a camera and asked DB prospects across the nation, “If you’re a recruit and ain’t going to Florida State, what is you doing?”
That question doesn’t apply to Brendan Gant, Travis Jay, Akeem Dent and Renardo Green, all of whom make up what Taggart believes might be the best defensive-back class in the country.
Gant and Jay signed on Wednesday, joining early signees Dent and Green. And the Seminoles could add to the group soon if another big-name safety prospect comes their way.
“I really, really like our defensive back class,” Taggart said. “I think it’s one of the best that’s out there. Those guys are highly competitive, they all have a chip on their shoulder and they all think they’re the best.”
Indeed, ESPN ranks Dent, a cornerback from Wellington, Fla., and Gant, a safety from Lakeland, as the top two prospects in FSU’s entire class.
And the Seminoles added another blue-chipper in Jay, a cornerback who helped nearby Madison County High win back-to-back state championships as a junior and senior.
Jay, who incidentally also played quarterback in high school and could potentially be a QB option in college, earned Under Armour All-America honors after a standout senior season.
“A phenomenal football player,” Taggart said. “I mean, he’s different. A really, really good football player and a really good basketball player, too. I watched him play the other night. It was like, ‘Wow.’”
Jay is the latest Madison product to sign with the Seminoles, joining the likes of Geno Hayes, Jacobbi McDaniel and Chris Thompson. Madison, Fla., is about 60 miles east of Tallahassee.
“I’m glad he’s with our football team and I’m glad he stayed here,” Taggart said. “It’s important that we keep these young men here, and especially with talent like that.
“To me, those are the guys that can help change a program and, not only help change it, but can help change it instantly.”
More big bodies on the way: Taggart continued to address one of FSU’s biggest problem areas from a year ago with the addition of two offensive linemen – 6-4, 285-pound tackle Darius Washington and 6-5, 320-pound tackle Ira Henry III.
Those two will join the three linemen who signed in December – Dontae Lucas, Maurice Smith and Jay Williams – as well as graduate transfer Ryan Roberts, a former starter at Northern Illinois.
With them all in the mix, Florida State could have as many as 17 scholarship linemen this fall.
“We feel like we addressed some needs up front,” Taggart said. “You’ve got some high school guys that are going to bring you some more depth to the offensive line. And getting a grad transfer with experience will also help us with coming in and competing.
“I think that’s so important, that we get the depth in here. Not just depth but competitive depth, to where each and every person knows that he’s got to come ready to go each week because he’s got a guy right behind him trying to make him better or take his job.”
Taggart talks staff additions: Let there be no uncertainty, Kendal Briles will be running the offense at Florida State. Answering questions about his new offensive coordinator for the first time, Taggart said that Briles, a former assistant at Baylor, Florida Atlantic and Houston, is here to “do what he’s been doing everywhere he’s been.
“And that’s scoring points and going fast.”
Taggart first met Briles on a visit to Baylor while coaching at South Florida. And some of the concepts he picked up there were later implemented into Taggart’s “Gulf Coast Offense” at USF.
Which is a big part of why Taggart is so comfortable hiring Briles and handing him the keys. Briles might be the one with his fingerprints on the offensive game plans, but his approach and philosophies are perfectly aligned with Taggart’s.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “He’s done it everywhere he’s been. And I’m excited to see him do it with our guys.”
Under Briles’ guidance, Houston last year averaged 43.9 points and 512.3 yards per game.
“That’s what we want,” Taggart said. “That’s why we brought him here – to do that. And we’re going to allow him to do that.”
One other addition to Taggart’s staff should be plenty familiar to Florida State fans. Ron Dugans, an FSU receiver from 1995-99 and a Tallahassee native, has reunited with both his alma mater and with Taggart, under whom he coached at USF in 2014 and 2015.
“I really like the way he developed our receivers as receivers and young men,” Taggart said. “I just saw how they played for him and fought for him. I was always impressed.”