TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – James Blackman headed home, shortly after learning he’d earned Florida State’s starting quarterback job, and went past his roommate, receiver D.J. Matthews, without saying a word.
He didn’t need to.
“He came in, he closed the door and cut his music up,” Matthews said Tuesday. “I already knew what that meant: Getting ready to go to war.”
News of Blackman’s new gig spread throughout the team on Sunday night, and, unsurprisingly, seemingly everyone on the roster was happy to see Blackman get his latest opportunity.
The redshirt sophomore has 13 games of starting experience, but Saturday’s opener against Boise State will be the first time that Blackman leads the huddle after winning the job for himself – and not just due to a starter’s injury.
“He is the captain of our team. He’s the leader of our offense,” center Baveon Johnson said. “It’s amazing. We were excited (to hear the news). We were just happy.”
Added receiver Keyshawn Helton: “It was great, man. The kid has worked for it. James Blackman has been one of the leaders – well, the leader – for me since I’ve been here. Whether that’s off or on the field. So I’m proud of him and he deserves it.”
Hearing Blackman’s teammates talk about him reinforces what both Taggart and Briles said about the race between him and fifth-year senior Alex Hornibrook.
That, despite their different strengths and weaknesses, the two quarterbacks were essentially neck and neck throughout fall camp and produced nearly identical results when running the Seminoles’ offense.
The tie-breaker, then, came down to Blackman’s place in the locker room.
That’s no knock on Hornibrook. By all accounts, the Wisconsin transfer has done everything possible to integrate himself into the program’s culture and make fast friendships with his new teammates.
And, were he competing against anyone other than Blackman, Hornibrook might be the one leading the Seminoles onto the field on Saturday.
But, for Taggart and Briles, Blackman’s leadership skills, his chemistry with his teammates and his magnetic, charismatic personality were just too much to ignore.
“I think James being here longer was probably one of the deciding factors,” Briles said. “Because he had a little bit better chemistry with the guys and had run the offense a little bit longer.”
Blackman, for his part, feels that competing with Hornibrook has made him a better quarterback, which will pay off for the Seminoles’ offense.
The last few weeks have been a far cry from the spring, when Blackman was the only eligible scholarship quarterback on the roster. Even if he hadn’t been very good, Blackman back then was virtually the starting quarterback by default.
But add Hornibrook to the mix, a multi-year starter with the highest winning percentage in Wisconsin football history, and Blackman had no choice but to push himself.
“I had a little adversity during this camp,” Blackman said, adding that the uncertainty of the quarterback race at times took a toll on him. “I had to pick up my play, and I overcame that. I feel like I’ll be ready for the adversity that is going to hit me during the season.”
For now, though, Blackman is happy to be on the other side of a hard-won – and long-awaited – spot in the starting lineup.
And knowing that he won it with the respect and admiration of his teammates makes it that much sweeter.
“It’s a great feeling, knowing that you have a group of guys who love you,” Blackman said. “Who are willing to go to war behind you.”
Noles transition into game-week practices: With a real, live opponent on the not-so-distant horizon, things are a little different on the Dunlap Practice Fields.
Work against offensive and defensive scout teams takes up much of the allotted time, with the Seminoles’ first-team offense and defense both competing against a group of underclassmen and walk-ons trying to simulate what Boise State will do on Saturday.
Places on the depth chart are always up for grabs, but the focus now is on trying to beat the Broncos – rather than beat out each other.
“We focus a lot more on our opponents and certain situations, what they’re doing,” Taggart said. “So everybody’s role is important. The scout team’s role is to give those guys a good look, and it’s important that they just understand what they’re doing.”
The Seminoles expect to have a few impact freshmen in 2019. Guard Dontae Lucas is slated to start and several others are listed on the team’s two-deep. But for many first-year players, the best way to make a first impression is by working on the scout team.
Receivers Warren Thompson and Jordan Young, for example, worked primarily with the offensive scout team a year ago and used that experience as a springboard into high expectations as redshirt freshmen.
“I love our scout team, the way it looks,” Taggart said. “The guys we’ve got over there, we’re going to get a good look every day. And you can’t ask for more than that, when you’ve got a scout team that can give you a game-like look.”
Special moment for OL Boselli: After each practice, Taggart picks someone within the program – player, coach or support staff – to address the team with some “wise words.”
Tuesday was no different, although this time Taggart had something up his sleeve.
He chose offensive line coach Randy Clements to speak, and Clements gave a brief message about commitment, focus and dedication.
Then, Clements singled out walk-on center Andrew Boselli, and asked Boselli to come join him in front of the team.
Boselli, Clements said, had done a great job living up to those ideals throughout fall camp, and, as a result, Taggart had decided to award Boselli with a full scholarship.
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Boselli’s reaction showed his surprise. He broke into a huge grin, hugged Taggart and then was mobbed by teammates for an impromptu celebration on the practice fields.
“He’s earned it,” Taggart said. “He’s got the respect of his teammates. He’s worked from spring ball on, and I’ve been really impressed with him.”
Receiving a scholarship is the culmination of a long road back for Boselli, who joined the Seminoles as a scholarship lineman in 2016, played for two years and then left the program following a change in coaching staffs in 2018.
Boselli, however, remained enrolled at FSU and, earlier this year, caught the bug to play again.
And Boselli, the son of former All-Pro Tony Boselli, didn’t mind joining the team as a walk-on.
“To come back and pay your own way,” Taggart said, “that tells you then that it’s important to him that he be back on this football team.”
Boselli then backed up that commitment by his actions on the practice fields. He spent fall camp primarily with the second-team offense, although he also worked plenty with the first team and was consistent and reliable with his snaps and his understanding of Clements’ teaching.
Boselli is listed at No. 2 on the center depth chart, and, given the physical demands placed on offensive linemen, he’s almost certain to play at some point this season.
And Taggart is plenty comfortable with Boselli if and when it comes to that.
“He worked his way and earned his way,” Taggart said. “And he earned his scholarship.”
Dugans leans on FSU family: It’s been a difficult few weeks for receivers coach Ron Dugans.
The former FSU standout, in his first year on Taggart’s staff, recently missed a few days of fall camp while tending to his ailing mother, Kathryn. And, on August 20, Kathryn Dugans-Brown died at the age of 58 after a battle with cancer.
Dugans returned to practice late last week, and while his pain is far from totally healed, being around a group he describes as a family has helped some.
FSU’s receivers even got together and recorded a video for Dugans, letting him know that they were thinking of and praying for him.
“It’s been a special feeling,” Dugans said. “To know that, coming back, they’re about to make you feel like you’re family, it’s been good.”