BRADENTON, Fla. – It’s been nearly 20 years since Ron Dugans last suited up in a Florida State uniform.
But as he surveyed the scene on the practice fields at Bradenton’s IMG Academy, and watched as current FSU receiver Ontaria Wilson darted around in a garnet, No. 80 jersey – the same number that Dugans wore during his playing days – Dugans couldn’t help but smile and say a little something.
“You know you represent that number, right?” Dugans told Wilson. “That 8-0 is special, dog.”
The last eight months have been pretty special for Dugans – and for his alma mater, too.
A Tallahassee native and part of FSU’s 1999 national championship team, Dugans returned to Florida State in January to be Willie Taggart’s new receivers coach.
After four seasons in the NFL and a 13-year coaching career that began soon after, Dugans is finally home.
“I feel like the Lord said it’s time to go home,” Dugans said. “And I embraced it.”
For Dugans, that means leading and lending a voice in his community as much as it does molding the Seminoles’ receiving corps.
In some cases, those two are one and the same.
“It’s great to have somebody back here who played here and knows the expectations that everyone holds Florida State to,” sophomore receiver Keyshawn Helton said earlier this year. “He’s a high-energy guy, and he expects a lot of his receivers.”
Those expectations include a competitive spirt, mental toughness and a willingness to block.
Especially a willingness to block.
“I always tell my guys: if you don’t block, you don’t play,” Dugans said.
To that end, Dugans has helped FSU’s receivers rethink what it means to make a big play.
Sure, it’s fine to get excited about making a deep, diving catch. Or grabbing a quick pass, juking past a defender and racing for a touchdown.
But a perimeter block that allows a running back to turn the corner? Or a downfield block that paves a teammate’s path to the end zone?
Dugans believes those accomplishments should be celebrated, too.
“We’ve got some great backs,” Dugans said. “When they get to that second level, it’s our job to take that five- or six-yard gain and make it a ‘house call.’ …
“I get just as excited for that, when we spring long runs in the running game.”
Like most coaches at this time of year, Dugans is quick to remind that his group still has plenty of work to do.
But he’s also pleased with the progress that the receivers have made, particularly from the spring through the first weeks of fall camp.
In the span of a few seconds, he rattled off the name of virtually every receiver he has and listed a way that each of those players has improved.
He likes that way that veterans D.J. Matthews and Keith Gavin have been blocking. He likes the way his younger receivers – such as Keyshawn Helton, D’Marcus Adams and Warren Thompson – have pushed through a variety of minor injuries or setbacks.
“That goes back to the mental toughness,” he said.
And, maybe more than anything, he likes the way that the receivers have built strong relationships with each other, relationships that extend beyond just the football field.
“Everybody in the receiving corps is a brother,” redshirt freshman Jordan Young said.
Which is why the receivers use words such as “family” and “brothers” when breaking down their huddle at the end of each practice.
“The biggest thing is us staying together as a receiving corps,” Dugans said. “We always break it down on, ‘family’ – us being able to trust each other.
“That bond is building.”
Dugans’ career has taken him all over the country, from his start as an FSU graduate assistant in 2005 to stints in Cincinnati, southern Georgia, Louisville, Tampa and Miami.
By the fall of 2018, his last at Miami with coach Mark Richt (Dugans played under Richt at FSU), Dugans had built a successful coaching career that stood on its own two legs – not just as “Ron Dugans, former FSU receiver.”
He’d flirted at times with a return to Florida State, but, for one reason or another, it never seemed to work out.
Once, Dugans wanted the job but the staff in place went in a different direction.
(Dugans now admits he wasn’t ready for the gig back then.)
Other times, the FSU receivers job came open, only for the timing to not be right on Dugans’ side.
No wonder that, after a while, Dugans began to think that maybe coaching at FSU just wasn’t meant to be.
He’s awfully glad to have been wrong.
“It really didn’t hit me until I stood in my office, early one morning, and looked out into Doak Campbell,” he said. “And I said, ‘It’s here. It’s happening.’”
Delay doesn’t slow Noles: The Seminoles had a productive first day at IMG Academy in Bradenton, and Taggart was especially happy with how his team navigated a weather delay of about 45 minutes.
Those types of delays are now rare for FSU football, which opened its indoor practice facility in 2013.
IMG Academy doesn’t have such a facility, which meant that the Seminoles on Tuesday did things the old-fashioned way – by waiting out the potentially dangerous conditions inside the locker room.
And, aside from one joke from an FSU staffer telling a player not to be a ’59 Chevy – “You take a while to get started” – the Seminoles didn’t seem to miss a beat.
Taggart said as much after practice, praising the team for the way it got back to work after the brief disruption.
Taggart open to IMG return: This year marks the second of a two-year contract for FSU to hold a portion of fall camp at IMG Academy.
Taggart and FSU have yet to decide if they’ll return to IMG Academy – or perhaps practice in a different off-campus location – but the head coach said Tuesday that he’s open to it.
“Really hadn’t thought that far ahead,” Taggart said when asked about it. “Just kind of getting through this and in the season. We’ll think about it later on. …
“But we like it. Our guys like it. And if it continues to help us, we’ll do it.”
Taggart has previously said that he likes getting away from campus as a way to force the players out of their comfort zones and to encourage team-building.
Parks medically disqualified: Taggart confirmed on Tuesday that Ja’len Parks, a redshirt sophomore defensive lineman from Newberry, Fla., has been medically disqualified due to a lingering ankle injury.
Parks, a former four-star recruit and prep All-American, will remain on scholarship at Florida State and continue to work toward his bachelor’s degree.
“It’s unfortunate,” Taggart said. “Great young man, and I’m sure he’ll go on to do some great things in other areas.”
Parks contributed to the scout-team defense in 2017, then redshirted following his injury a year later.