TALLAHASSEE, FL – 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.”
IRA HENRY III
OL | 6-5 | 320
TRINITY CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL
Consensus three-star offensive lineman known for tremendous strength and massive frame…rated as nation’s No. 33 offensive tackle and No. 21 overall prospect in Missouri by Rivals…ranked as No. 46 offensive tackle in class of 2019 and No. 19 prospect in Missouri by ESPN…four-year letterwinner…as a senior, led Trinity Catholic to state championship with 13-2 record…paved way for offense that averaged 48.4 points per game, scoring more than 50 points six times, and averaged 273.4 rushing yards per game…named AAAA second-team all-state following his senior season…as a junior, was named the AAA small division Lineman of the Year…part of Trinity Catholic team that went to Class 2 championship game his sophomore season…chose Florida State over several offers, including Florida and Auburn.
DE | 6-2 | 281
CAPE CORAL, FLA.
LEHIGH SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL
Consensus four-star defensive end…ranked No. 194 in ESPN300…listed as 15th-best strong side defensive end nationally and No. 22 overall prospect in Florida by 247Sports…contributed 55 tackles, 5.0 sacks, two interceptions and two pass breakups as a senior at Lehigh…missed majority of junior season due to injury…two-time Naples Daily News Big 15 prospect…competed at The Opening in Dallas in 2018…played in 2019 All-American Bowl…chose FSU over Alabama and Florida.
K | 6-0 | 185
COLQUITT COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL
One of the top kicking prospects in the country known for his explosive leg…rated five-star kicker and No. 14 prospect in the country by Kohl’s Kicking…holds two Georgia state high school career records with 51 made field goals and eight 50+-yard field goals…as a senior made single-season state-record 22 field goals while earning first-team All-American by MaxPreps, first team All-American by Kohl’s Kicking and 2018 Chris Sailer Award…as a junior, made school-record 60-yard field goal, the fifth-longest in Georgia history by a high schooler, on his way to breaking state’s single-season record with six 50+-yard field goals…extended school record for longest field goal seven times…chose Florida State over Baylor, FAU, Army and Air Force among other offers.
DB | 6-2 | 176
MADISON COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL
Explosive athlete rated as consensus four-star defensive back…ranked as No. 14 cornerback in the country by ESPN and 17th at the position by 247Sports…played in 2019 Under Armour All-America Game…ironman athlete that lined up in defensive backfield and at quarterback his senior season at Madison County…finished high school career 38-2 and part of back-to-back 1A state championships his junior and senior seasons…as a senior, posted 44 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, four interceptions and 15 pass deflections in the defensive backfield…while playing quarterback his senior season, was 1,300-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher with 33 total touchdowns…as a junior totaled 59 tackles and eight interceptions, returning two for touchdowns…named to Class 1A all-state team and first-team All-Big Bend as defensive back…as a sophomore totaled 46 tackles and eight interceptions…lettered each year in basketball…as a junior on the court, averaged 15.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 4.0 steals per game, finishing with 11 triple-doubles and being honored as the Big Bend Player of the Year…signed with the Seminoles over offers from Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and Auburn among others.
OL | 6-4 | 285
WEST FLORIDA HIGH SCHOOL
Powerful offensive lineman rated as four-star prospect by ESPN and three-star recruit by 247Sports and Rivals…listed as nation’s No. 39 offensive tackle and No. 68 overall prospect in Florida by ESPN…ranked 82nd in Florida by 247…as a senior, registered 37 pancake blocks while paving way for West Florida offense that averaged 162 rushing yards per game…named first-team all-area by Pensacola News Journal…invited to compete in local Subway High School All-Star Game…as a junior, helped lead Jaguars to 5A state championship game and 12-2 overall record…opened holes for offense that averaged 33.3 points per game and 193 rushing yards per game…named 5A second-team all-state by FloridaHSFootball and first-team all-area by Pensacola News Journal…high school teammates with current FSU wide receiver Keyshawn Helton…chose Florida State over Miami and Mississippi State among others.
DB | 6-1 | 193
KATHLEEN HIGH SCHOOL
Consensus four-star safety…ranked as nation’s third-best safety according to Rivals, sixth by ESPN and 25th by 247Sports…competed at The Opening Finals in 2018…played quarterback and defensive back, helping lead Kathleen to FHSAA 7A regional semifinal appearance in 2018…played in 2019 Under Armour All-America Game…also played basketball for Red Devils…father Eric Gant is in the Grambling Legends Sports Hall of Fame after rushing for 3,745 yards and 34 touchdowns during his career…uncle Kenny Gant won two Super Bowl rings during his seven-year NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers…chose FSU over numerous offers including Alabama.
CB | 6-1 | 170
PALM BEACH CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
Five-star prospect listed as the nation’s No. 3 cornerback and the No. 5 prospect in Florida by 247Sports…ranked 28th nationally, 4th at his position, and No. 4 in Florida according to Rivals…listed as the No. 76 prospect in ESPN300…played in 2019 Under Armour All-America Game…two-time Sun Sentinel Palm Beach County Class 8A-6A Defensive Player of the Year…contributed 67 tackles and one interception while serving as team captain in 2018, leading the Broncos to the FHSAA 8A Regional Final…2018 Groza Award Palm Beach County Player of the Year…tallied 81 tackles, five interceptions and three forced fumbles as a junior…helped Palm Beach Central to back-to-back district titles…is younger brother of current FSU wide receiver Adarius Dent…chose Florida State over Alabama and Miami among many offers.
OL | 6-3 | 323
Powerful offensive lineman rated as consensus four-star prospect…ranked as No. 3 offensive guard in the country and 50th overall prospect by Rivals…was 110th overall in ESPN300 and No. 4 offensive guard…selected to play in 2019 All-American Bowl…as a senior, blocked for IMG offense that averaged 41.6 points per game on way to 7-1 record against national schedule…spent junior season at Miami Senior High School where he paved the way for an offense that produced 39.4 points per game and won 12 games while advancing to Class 8A state semifinal…named second-team all-state by USA Today following his junior season…high school teammates his senior season with fellow FSU signee Jaleel McRae…chose FSU over several offers, including Miami, Florida and Alabama.
RAYMOND WOODIE III
DB | 6-0 | 191
FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL
Dynamic safety rated as four-star prospect by ESPN and Rivals and three-star by 247Sports…tabbed as nation’s No. 9 safety by ESPN and 22nd in the country by Rivals…ranked 158th on ESPN300…versatile athlete that lined up at safety, wide receiver, quarterback and as returner in high school…selected to play in 2019 Under Armour All-America Game…first-team all-state selection as a senior…totaled 45 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and four pass deflections, hauled in 22 receptions for 422 yards and three touchdowns and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns while helping Florida High advance to semifinal round of FHSAA 3A state playoffs…as a junior at Sheldon High School in Eugene, Oregon, totaled 20 tackles, six interceptions and 1.0 sack while adding 18 receptions for 276 yards and four touchdowns…named first-team All-Southwest Conference for his performance…played quarterback at Carrollwood Day School in Tampa his freshman and sophomore seasons…son of FSU linebackers coach Raymond Woodie…chose FSU over Louisville, Stanford, Cal and Ole Miss from multiple offers.
LB | 6-0 | 206
ISLANDS HIGH SCHOOL
Can play any of the linebacker positions and has speed to go sideline to sideline…rated as consensus four-star prospect…ranked No. 198 in ESPN300…listed as No. 14 outside linebacker nationally and 28th prospect out of Georgia according to 247 Composite…ranked 14th nationally at his position and No. 34 in Georgia according to Rivals…will play in 2019 Under Armour All-America Game…registered 156 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss with 7.0 sacks and two interceptions as a senior…was named Butkus Award finalist for best high school linebacker in America…contributed on offense as well, adding 771 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns…also played basketball for Islands High School…chose Florida State over Auburn and Michigan from numerous offers.
OL | 6-2 | 287
MIAMI CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
Three-star recruit by 247Sports and Rivals…plays with great technique, footwork and hand placement…listed as nation’s 28th-best offensive guard and 98th overall prospect out of Florida by Rivals…helped Miami Central to 11-3 record and appearance in FHSAA 6A regional final as a senior…blocked for offense that rushed for 3,072 yards and 32 touchdowns, averaging 219.4 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry on the ground…protected for passing attack that threw for 2,363 yards on 146 completions and 25 touchdowns while averaging 16.2 yards per catch…competed in The Opening Miami Regional in 2018…picked Florida State over Miami and Boston College.
OL | 6-6 | 290
MORENO VALLEY, CALIF.
NUVIEW BRIDGE EARLY COLLEGE HS/GROSSMONT COLLEGE
Athletic offensive lineman rated as three-star prospect by 247Sports…ranked as No. 63 overall JUCO prospect and No. 8 offensive tackle in the country by 247…spent two seasons at Grossmont College…played defensive line and tight end at Nuview Bridge…totaled 766 yards and 17 touchdowns receiving and 153 tackles, 33.0 tackles for loss and 22.0 sacks in his career…as a senior recorded 51 tackles, 6.0 for loss and 1.0 sack…as a junior posted career-high 73 tackles, 15.0 for loss, 9.0 sacks and four forced fumbles…led Knights with 10 touchdown receptions and 8.0 sacks as a sophomore…also earned four letters in basketball and competed on track & field team…chose FSU over Louisville, Texas and Indiana among others.
DB | 5-11 | 175
MIAMI GARDENS, FLA.
MIAMI CAROL CITY SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL
Lockdown defensive back rated as four-star prospect by Rivals, and three-star by 247Sports and ESPN…ranked as nation’s 44th-best cornerback and No. 50 overall prospect in Florida by Rivals…physical cornerback with massive wingspan…competed in Adidas 7-on-7 National Championship in the spring prior to his senior season, recording an interception…as a senior was part of defense that recorded five shutouts and allowed average of 9.8 points per game while leading Miami Carol City to 9-3 record and Regional Semifinal round of FHSAA 6A state playoffs…recorded longest interception return in Traz-Powell Stadium history as a senior, going back 108 yards for a touchdown…high school teammates with FSU signee Malcolm Ray…chose Florida State over Miami, Florida, LSU and UCF among several offers.
DB | 6-0 | 173
WEKIVA HIGH SCHOOL
Lockdown cornerback rated as three-star prospect by Rivals and 247Sports…listed as No. 46 cornerback prospect in the nation by 247 and 47th by Rivals…grabbed four interceptions and defended 23 passes as a senior at Wekiva…added 25 tackles and one fumble recovery while helping the Mustangs to 11-2 record and appearance in FHSAA 8A Regional Final…competed at The Opening in 2018…chose FSU over Ohio State.
WR | 6-4 | 190
DUNNELLON HIGH SCHOOL
Four-star wide receiver by Rivals and 247Sports…difference-maker with impressive size that can also be a tremendous blocker…ranked as 24th overall prospect from Florida according to Rivals…caught 17 passes for 345 yards in eight games played in 2018 for Dunnellon High School, helping the Tigers to an appearance in the semifinals of the FHSAA 4A state playoffs…also plays basketball and baseball…picked Florida State over Florida.
LB | 6-1 | 220
DUTCHTOWN HIGH SCHOOL
Consensus three-star prospect…ESPN ranked him 14th in the country at his position and 63rd overall in Georgia…ranked as nation’s No. 35 inside linebacker and No. 86 overall prospect in Georgia by 247Sports…earned region Defensive Player of the Year and was first-team all-region selection as a senior…helped lead defense that allowed 7.1 points per game with five shutouts…led Dutchtown to 12 victories, region title and into quarterfinal round of AAAAA state playoffs…named to all-county and all-region teams as a junior after leading Bulldogs with 95 tackles and helping earn state playoff appearance…selected Florida State over multiple offers, including North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and Missouri.
DL | 6-2 | 247
MIAMI GARDENS, FLA.
MIAMI CAROL CITY SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL
Consensus three-star defensive tackle that displays tremendous athleticism and strong work ethic…rated as the nation’s No. 50 defensive tackle and Florida’s No. 94 overall prospect by 247Sports…as a senior, helped lead defense that posted five shutouts, including three in a row, while holding opponents to average of 9.8 points per game as Miami Carol City posted 9-3 overall record and advanced to regional semifinal round of FHSAA 6A state playoffs…as a junior named Florida 6A first-team all-state by FloridaHSFootball…as a sophomore helped lead Carol City to 6A state championship…high school teammates with FSU signee Jarvis Brownlee…chose FSU over several offers including Boston College, Louisville, Kentucky and South Florida.
DERRICK MCLENDON II
DE | 6-3 | 233
TUCKER HIGH SCHOOL
Versatile defensive line prospect with ability to line up at either side…shows tremendous ability as pass rusher and run stopper…rated as four-star weak side defensive end by Rivals and ESPN…ranked as No. 19 weak side defensive end in the country by Rivals and 37th by 247Sports…prior to his senior season, named to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution AAAAAA preseason all-state team…finished his high school career with 85 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks…as a senior, totaled 35 tackles and led the team with 6.0 sacks despite playing only eight games…chose the Seminoles over Florida and North Carolina State among many scholarship offers.
LB | 6-2 | 236
NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FLA.
Rated as four-star linebacker by ESPN and Rivals and three-star by 247Sports…tabbed as No. 11 outside linebacker and 122nd prospect in the country by ESPN…ranked 34th in the nation at his position and 56th overall in Florida by 247…selected to play in 2019 Under Armour All-America Game…transferred from his home school of New Smyrna Beach to IMG Academy for his senior season…named to high school Dick Butkus Award watch list, given to nation’s best high school linebacker…part of IMG defense his senior season that allowed only 7.9 points per game and produced 7-1 record against national competition…as a junior, totaled 73 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss and was named second-team all-area…as a sophomore was named a second-team Sophomore All-American by MaxPreps after totaling 72 tackles, 12.0 for loss, 5.0 sacks and two interceptions…also lettered in basketball while at New Smyrna Beach, where he averaged 9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore…chose Florida State over Florida, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia Tech among others.
CURTIS FANN, JR.
DE | 6-1 | 252
EMANUEL COUNTY INSTITUTE
Four-star prospect by Rivals and 247Sports that brings power and quickness to the defensive line…rated No. 29 nationally according to Rivals and 17th among strong side defensive ends by 247…ranked No. 143 in ESPN300…three-year starter on both sides of the ball…helped Emanuel County Institute to perfect 5-0 regional record and appearance in second round of Class A state playoffs in 2018…as a junior played on team that won 12 games and advanced to semifinal round of state playoffs…made 64 tackles, including 23.0 for loss with 7.0 sacks, and forced four fumbles as a sophomore when Emanuel County advanced to state semifinal…picked Florida State over Georgia and South Carolina.
DT | 6-0 | 324
GRAYSON HIGH SCHOOL
Powerful defensive tackle rated as four-star prospect by ESPN and three-star by 247Sports and Rivals…consensus top-50 defensive tackle in the country, ranked as nation’s 29th defensive tackle and 50th overall prospect in Georgia by ESPN…as a senior at Grayson, led defense that held opponents to 15.2 points per game while winning 10 games and advancing to quarterfinal round of AAAAAAA state playoffs…posted more than 25 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hurries his senior year…as a junior, recorded more than 30 tackles, 5.0 for loss with 4.0 sacks, as part of defense that allowed only 11.8 points per game and helped Rams win 10 games…committed to Florida State over Florida, Miami, Louisville, LSU and Michigan State among others.